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Good Morning, today is June 13, 2017.
NEED TO KNOW
A Game of Catch-Up
It’s usually terror group Boko Haram that captures attention in Africa. But in the Horn, it’s the fight against al-Qaeda’s East African affiliate al-Shabaab that is heating up.
Over the weekend, the US bombed one of the group’s “nerve centers” in Somalia, the Military Times reported, in a steadily escalating operation that a one-star general is now overseeing.
That assault came as the jihadists have been busy.
On Tuesday, heavily armed al-Shabab fighters stormed a military base in Somalia’s semiautonomous state of Puntland, killing close to 70 people and wounding dozens more, officials told the Associated Press. Residents said civilians, including women, were beheaded during the rampage.
The militant group set fire to a school in northeastern Kenya earlier this month, killing one local teacher and kidnapping another. In the Somali port city of Kismayu, at least one policeman was killed and several others injured after the group detonated a bomb in the city’s police station.
After its inception in 2006 amid a prolonged period of Somalian instability, al-Shabaab snatched up territory uncontrolled by the country’s feeble central government, according to the Council on Foreign Relations.
By 2011, the group had seized neighborhoods in Mogadishu as well as the entirety of Kismayu before Kenyan troops pushed them out under the authority of the African Union that year.
While the group may be weaker now in Somalia, it still wields incredible influence in the region and wages regular, brutal guerilla attacks throughout the Horn of Africa. It’s estimated that al-Shabaab still has as many as 9,000 dedicated fighters in the sub-Saharan region.
Attacks have risen significantly in Kenya over the last few weeks, too, Kenya’s Standard newspaper reported. Since 2011, al-Shabaab has claimed responsibility for more than 150 terror attacks in the country, including the 2015 massacre at Garissa University College, which claimed almost 150 lives.
The violence has helped al-Shabaab claim the title of deadliest terror group on the African continent last year. The fighters killed more than 4,000 people in 2016, according to Quartz.
The group’s tactics of terror are more multifaceted than in the past, too.
Instead of uniformly pillaging villages to gain influence and territory, al-Shabaab is also engaging in an extreme ideological campaign across the region.
It looks to recruit and radicalize young Muslims, some as young as six years-old, while enslaving women and girls to breed the next generation of fighters, the BBC has reported. It also seeks to win the hearts and minds of locals in some areas of the country by providing security and stability.
The ongoing power struggle between the feeble Somali government and al-Shabaab continues to threaten the stability of the entire region, especially during a drought that’s put some 6.2 million people in the Horn of Africa in need of humanitarian assistance, Newsweek warned.
Making matters worse, the group extorts humanitarian groups trying to access those in need in regions it controls, potentially jeopardizing a $825 million assistance operation that’s crucial to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe, according to United Nations estimates.
The US and its allies are clearly trying to keep a lid on the group before its brand of hate metastasizes further. They’re playing a game of catch-up that they must win for the sake of the region.