Challenges to America's counterterrorism strategy in Somalia

Residents carry posters with Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron and Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud as they take part in a parade in support of the Somalia conference in London, along the streets of Somalia's capital Mogadishu May 7, 2013.

Article Highlights

  • The Somali federal government’s sovereignty over the territory recognized as Somalia is far from complete.

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  • Somaliland, which declared its independence in 1991, has been relatively stable and has sought recognition as a separate state.

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  • The defeat of al Shabaab in southern Somalia has galvanized a movement to establish a similar region

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Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Somalia, al Shabaab, has suffered a series of defeats at the hands of Somali clan militia forces, internationally-backed African Union peacekeeping troops, and Somali federal government forces. Notably, al Shabaab lost a major stronghold in the southern Somali port city of Kismayo at the end of September 2012. As al Shabaab suffered setbacks, the Somali government made major progress: The United States formally recognized a government of Somalia in January 2013 for the first time since 1991, for example. The government controls the majority of Mogadishu today, whereas it held only a few blocks of the capital city in 2010.

Yet the Somali federal government’s sovereignty over the territory recognized as Somalia is far from complete, and faces significant challenges. Somaliland, which declared its independence in 1991, has been relatively stable and has sought recognition as a separate state. Puntland established a separate government shortly thereafter, but the semi-autonomous region remains nominally part of the federal Somali state. The defeat of al Shabaab in southern Somalia has galvanized a movement to establish a similar region – Jubbaland – that would also be nominally part of a federal state. The initiative did not stem from the federal government, but rather from local warlords, threatening a codification of the form of the warlordism that originally collapsed the Somali state.

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