Counter-Terrorism & Security Opinion: How to Eliminate Al-Shabaab and Save Somali Innocents – A ‘Books-Not-Bombs’ approach to US Foreign Policy in the Horn of Africa

As former undersecretary of state Wendy Sherman said, ‘The US believes a stable, federal Somalia with a credible national government in Mogadishu is in the best interest of all Somalis’ (USIP 2014)[1]. US Security policy in Somalia is complex and vast. No matter the issue, whether it be: political corruption, humanitarian crises, or terrorism – ‘stability’ has been the routine object & interest of US/Somalia policy. Somalia, since 1991, has been a failed state and as such, unresolved security issues multiply and compound each other. It should be noted that the horn of Africa is rich in uranium and untapped oil, a geo-strategic interest to terrorists and great powers alike (CIA 2019). Additionally, the region represents strategic interests in access to the Red & Arabian seas, the Gulf of Aden, and the Indian Ocean. Consequently, any stability prescription must make multiple moves at once, given the variety of orbiting actors & interests.

Therefore, this prescription will address two direct stability threats: in-fighting Somali clans’ effect on the central government and territory seeking Al-Shabaab[2] who takes advantage of the chaos produced by the former. Each represents an existential barrier to Somalian security. This prescription will first identify stability problems and actors; then it will present a solution proposal: the establishment and funding of a Mogadishu based education initiative which will provide, and safeguard intelligence given to the J2 intelligence directorate of US Africa Command in its fight against Al-Shabaab[3].

Generally, nation building efforts in Somalia have failed to sufficiently consider local governance and laws (Menkhaus 2006).  As such, ‘Xeer’ – the clan legal system- has contributed to the difficulty of the establishment of a federal government. Most notably, the shifting tides of governmental control have been largely influenced by the constant positioning of clans to seize power when an eventual central government comes about (MacCallum 2007). This reality has led not only to a constant power struggle between clans for the soul of a future government, but to the very chaos which Al-Shabaab capitalizes on in its theocratic territorial interests. One direct way in which Al-Shabaab and even warring clans have benefited from this is in the feeding of false intel to American forces. In successful efforts of grievance reciprocation, Clan members have falsely identified rivals as Al-Shabaab HVTs to American forces, directly resulting in civilian casualties from drone strikes (Ferguson 2018). This has warped dialogue and political narrative not only within Somali/US relations (given that Al-Shabaab often promises aid to the destitute who join), but between US African Command and Amnesty International.[4]

To nullify Al-Shabaab’s tactical advantage and clan reciprocation through unwitting US proxy, young Mogadishu (the seat of Somali government) Somalis should be trained in both Xeer and liaising with J2 intelligence. The initiative will be funded and coordinated by a set of non-military bodies: USAID Middle East and Africa division, US Department of State (USDS), US Institute of Peace (USIP), and the Bureau of Educational & Cultural Affairs (BECA). These bodies, taken together, represent a unique combinatorial potency of regional expertise & funds allocation, executive command structure (BECA is USDS subordinate), and expertise in the development of conflict resolution education programmes (USIP).

In 2018, over 700 million dollars in aid was given to Somalia via USAID (USAID 2018). Allotments of this aid are vast and complexly categorized. Among these categories, some money pools are more relevant to an education/security project than others. As such, the mentioned organizations will also take on an appraisal role to quote the program cost and funding scheme, with USIP taking a leadership role given their programme development expertise. Ultimately, USDS will spearhead final decisions as BECA assists USIP in the cultivation of appropriate human capital in the development stage. It is the proposal of this report for the agency network to ‘redirect’ proportionate funds from relevant USAID categories, so as to not call for ‘additional funds’. This proportional liquidation from relevant funds, similar to mutual fund finance structure, will most efficiently mitigate financial shocks to other USAID funded projects in region. Here, USDS leadership will be key in mitigating potential externalities across Somali projects.

Somali program graduates will be equipped with evolving ‘Xeer’ rules, norms, and adaptive prescriptions based upon current clan culture/leadership. By liaising with J2, this will better avoid ‘Proxy Reciprocity’ by safeguarding intel, consequently empowering J2. J2 will report to US Africa Command leadership who already coordinates with the Somalian Federal Government to conduct drone & air strikes against Al-Shabaab.  Some great benefits include the partial relief of external international pressure (amnesty international for example), legitimates efforts of force actors in region, minimizes casualties, reduces human crisis, & severely limits clan ‘Proxy Reciprocity’. Securing this will facilitate clan stabilization by forcing them to seek more legitimate means of conflict resolution, likely through accessing the Somalian federal government instead of opposing it (shoring up federal legitimacy). This long-term solution is a ‘books not (more) bombs’ approach which is meant to provide for Somali security as African Union forces withdraw from the region.

This also serves both US and Int. Community interests in fighting Al-Shabaab. With increased stability comes better access to natural resources and trade. Delivering these to a legitimate Somalian state and allies keeps them out of terrorist possession, retarding the development of the horn of Africa as a global terror hub. US interests are directly aligned with safeguarding regional security assets, like strategic concerns about the Red & Arabian seas, Gulf of Aden, and the Indian Ocean. Additionally, the adoption of an economical self-empowerment education plan, which has the benefit of fighting terror, will likely court positive US domestic support.

If successful, this prescription can achieve measures of important stability, Somali sovereignty, financial prudence, counter-terrorism, and long-term solution support to offset the eventual withdrawal of both African Union and American forces in the region. Attending these direct threats provides a renewed starting point from which to launch the larger project of Somali security and its manifold issues – all while securing US, International, & Somali interests.



**Organizational Background Gathered from: US Department of State-History of Diplomatic Relations, Office of the US Historian, BECF, USIP, USAID

[1] See also: ‘Why a Stable Somalia is in our Interests’ Matt Baugh, Ambassador to Somalia 2012

[2] International Crisis Group: Why is Al-Shabaab Still a Potent Threat? 2016

[3] Stanford CISAC: Al-Shabaab Structure & Attacks to date data in Bibliography

[4] Amnesty International Drone Strike Data and US African Command Response in Bibliography


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