Shabaab’s Continued Threat in Somalia Amid ATMIS Withdrawal

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Recently, Shabaab, al Qaeda’s branch in East Africa, took responsibility for a suicide car bombing targeting Djiboutian and Somali troops at a military base in central Somalia. Year has seen the 14th suicide bombing conducted by Shabaab so far.

Attack on the Beledweyne headquarters of Djiboutian troops attached to the African Union Transition Mission in Somalia (ATMIS) in the central Somali region of Hiraan. Site was in the process of being transferred to Somali government control when Shabaab struck.

Incident claimed at least four lives, including three civilians and one Somali soldier. Attacks often have inflated casualty numbers according to Shabaab, which claimed to have killed and wounded over 29 people, though it’s unclear if any Djiboutian troops were among the casualties.

Withdrawal of ATMIS troops is currently in progress as part of the African Union’s plan to end ATMIS’ mandate by the end of the year. Somalia also saw Ethiopian troops hand over another base in Hiraan recently, while Kenyan troops transitioned another base in the south.

Handover of the ATMIS base to the Somali National Army (SNA) sends clear signals about Shabaab’s strength in central Somalia despite two years of constant military pressure. Drawdown also demonstrates the fragility of the ATMIS withdrawal process.

Future Somalia faces in a post-ATMIS space is signaled by yesterday’s suicide bombing. Mogadishu needs security buffers, as recognized by the African Union, which is actively working to create a successor mission to ATMIS.

Data from FDD’s Long War Journal notes that yesterday’s blast marks at least the 14th suicide bombing conducted by Shabaab this year. Operations have sharply declined compared to last year, with this total being exactly half.

Comparison shows this total is still on par with other years, particularly from 2016 to 2021, where Shabaab averaged around 30 suicide bombings annually.

Analyst Caleb Weiss is an editor of FDD’s Long War Journal and a senior analyst at the Bridgeway Foundation. Africa remains a focus, particularly the spread of the Islamic State in Central Africa.

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