Amisom and Somali forces will work together to eradicate the militants from their last stronghold in 2019. Meanwhile, al-Shabaab claims another bomb blast in Mogadishu days after declaring an offensive against a rival terror group.

The African Union (AU) Peace and Security Council has approved a new plan of operations in Somalia that will enable peacekeepers to start liberating regions that are still held by al-Shabaab, reported Shabelle.

Known as the Concept of Operations (ConOps), the blueprint will enable the AU Mission in Somalia (Amisom) to start with Middle Jubba region to flush out al-Shabaab remnants at the beginning of 2019.

The operations will be carried out jointly with the Jubbaland State Forces and the Somali National Army. The ConOps was approved by the Council on November 30th and will guide Amisom operations until 2021.

Middle Jubba is the only region entirely controlled by al-Shabaab, which has been driven out of most other parts of the country.

According to Amisom spokesperson Col Richard Omwega, ConOps is part of the implementation of the Somalia Transition Plan, which involves reconfiguring the forces into new sectors in preparation for a conditional handover of security responsibility to Somalia security forces.

The document will have to be approved by the AU and senior defence officials of countries that contribute troops to Amisom – Kenya, Burundi, Uganda, Ethiopia and Djibouti – before it is operationalised.

There have been concerns among Somalia watchers that Amisom is planning a second phase of withdrawal in February 2019. Due to funding issues, the UN Security Council in 2017 instructed Amisom to reduce its uniformed personnel in readiness for a full pullout in 2020. The first withdrawal of 1,040 started in December 2017.

Kenya and Uganda have been reluctant to leave Somalia before it stabilises.

Al shabaabAn Amisom soldier looks on as al-Shabaab members stand in line after more than 200 fighters gave themselves up in Garsale, 80km north of Mogadishu. Image: CC 2012. 

Fifteen people were killed on December 22nd when suicide car bombs exploded near the Somali National Theatre in Mogadishu near the presidential palace, Shabelle reported. Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for the explosions.

South Africa’s Independent Online meanwhile reported on the 23rd that the death toll from the twin attacks had risen to 20.

One of Somalia’s most prominent journalists was among those killed in the attacks, reports say. Awil Dihar Salad, 45, was a veteran reporter who worked to revive the country’s media before leaving the country in 2005 and returning several years later to work with Universal TV.

Al-Shabaab, which is linked to al-Qaeda, was forced out of Mogadishu in 2011 but continues to mount regular attacks in the city.

However, the US has sharply increased its air strikes against the group since President Donald Trump took power. Earlier in December, the US military said it had killed 62 fighters in six air strikes.

The US State Department says the group retains control over large parts of the country and has the ability to carry out high-profile attacks.

Al-Shabaab recently announced a military offensive against Islamic State (IS)-affiliated forces in Somalia, in a statement read on December 21st on Radio Andalus, according to VOA.

The conflict between the two rival terrorist groups has been simmering since the emergence of an IS-affiliated group in Somalia in October 2015. The group found a foothold in the northeastern Puntland state of Somalia, where it began recruiting former al-Shabaab fighters before carrying out attacks and assassinations elsewhere in the county.

On December 16th, IS reported its first offensive on al-Shabaab in Somalia.

The IS-affiliated group is estimated to have about 200 active members and is far smaller than the al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab group, which has thousands of fighters in largely rural areas.

Analysts interviewed by VOA Somalia say that the IS ideology of promoting global expansion and domination does not sit well with al-Shabaab leaders, who prefer focusing mainly on domestic matters.

It is not clear what this would mean to the jihadist groups in Somalia and their fight against the Somali government and AU peacekeepers in the country.

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Find out more in the Africa Research Bulletin:

Somalia – US Air Strikes
Political, Social and Cultural series
Vol. 55, Issue 11

Somalia – November In Brief
Political, Social and Cultural series
Vol. 55, Issue 11

Somalia – Anniversary of Deadliest Explosions
Political, Social and Cultural series
Vol. 55, Issue 10

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