Report Chapter - Washington Institute for Near East Policy

Al-Shabab in Somalia: The Resilience of Al-Qaeda's East African Affiliate

| June 2017


After dominating most of southern and central Somalia between 2008 and the spring of 2011, Al-Shabab today faces a number of major challenges to its continued longevity. Territorially, al-Shabab was forced to withdraw from most of its urban holdings, beginning in August 2011 with the capital, Mogadishu. Internal factionalism and infighting and leadership losses since 2012 have also taken a toll on the group, threatening to compound its territorial, battlefield, and economic losses. Despite these setbacks, Al-Shabab remains remarkably resilient and continues to prove adept at waging a deadly campaign of asymmetric warfare, exercise governing control over the significant amounts of territory it still controls, and quickly take advantage of the missteps of its chief enemies, the Somali Federal Government and African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM) forces. One of the keys to Al-Shabab's resilience is the ability of its leaders to address rising challenges while taking advantage of opportune situations on the ground, countering claims by the Islamic State and its regional sympathizers and supporters in East Africa that the group has "abandoned jihad" and needs to be replaced. Al-Shabab has thereby remained the jihadist standard-bearer in the region despite the allure and aggressive expansionism of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi's organization. This chapter examines the trajectory of Al-Shabab since 2011 and the factors behind its continued resilience in Somalia and East Africa including its expansion into Kenya and other neighboring countries and its responses to growing challenges from the Somali Federal Government, AMISOM, and Islamic State.

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For Academic Citation: Anzalone, Christopher. “Al-Shabab in Somalia: The Resilience of Al-Qaeda's East African Affiliate.” In How Al-Qaeda Survived Drones, Uprisings, and the Islamic State: The Nature of the Current Threat, Washington Institute for Near East Policy, June 2017.