Al-Wasat contributor Christopher Anzalone provides an excellent piece of analysis on Harakat al-Shabab al Mujahideen in Somalia. Through analysis of al-Shabab’s latest video, Anzalone evaluates individual components of al-Shabab’s content discussing their recruitment efforts abroad to gain foreign fighters to battle in Somalia’s domestic insurgency. Really good article and here are some of my notes:
- The pattern continues- I mentioned a while back that each ‘terrorism conflict zone’ (I call them targets in my foreign fighter model) tends to draw a similar pattern of foreign fighter recruits: 80% or more from the countries immediately surrounding the conflict zone and 20% or less from farther removed Muslim countries and the West. The largest foreign fighter contributors from surrounding countries (the 80% or more) can be a good indicator of where the next insurgency/terrorism problem will occur regionally. However, the most valuable data comes from the other 20% (maybe 10% in the case of Somalia) that come from the far reaches of recruitment. From this video, these recruits are a sprinkling of Sweden, Britain, and maybe the U.S. At this point, I wonder if al-Shabab intends to use these recruits as fighters or suicide bombers. The tendency I think in Somalia (a positive one for Western CT folks) is to use these foreign fighters as canon fodder/suicide bombers as their utility as fighters is low. But, I’m not sure what the current trend is for Western recruits right now. Those Western recruits that survive the battlefield in Somalia (a tough challenge) may be a faint indicator of future terrorism problems. Although I’m uncertain how these veteran fighters will or could reconstitute later outside of Somalia.
- Middle Eastern Recruits/Members- I am also interested to find out the number of Middle Eastern recruits and their role in the organization. Usually AQ likes to send out their envoys to groups like al-Shabab and provide a liaison/leadership role in these affiliates and insurgent groups. However, AQ tried this in Somalia in 1992 and failed. Their training teams did not successfully integrate into Somali clans and persistent resource constraints led to them leave Somalia by 1994. Despite Bin Laden and Zawahiri calling for jihad in Somalia, I’ve always believed AQ’s early 90’s failure, the elitist nature of their Middle Eastern cadres, and persistent chaos from tribalism have made Somalia a hard sell for large numbers of foreign fighter recruits outside Somalia’s land borders. One would think AQAP’s proximity to this battlefield might naturally lead to sizeable collaboration, but I’ve seen no such indicators of serious coordination between AQAP and al-Shabab.
- Domestic Somali recruitment competition- Anzalone makes an excellent point reference al-Shabab’s domestic recruitment challenges. With anything related to Somalia, my first action is to listen to Dr. Ken Menkhaus. Menkhaus has written and spoken repeatedly about the power of clan in Somalia and their Diaspora community. Somali clan disputes in Somalia often continue into Western Somali Diasporas demonstrating that loyalties are strong and grudges know few bounds. I imagine joining al-Shabab is a hard sell for most potential recruits who have extended family/clan loyalties that offer obvious tangible and intangible rewards in comparison to al-Shabab. al-Shabab must compete with dozens of clans for new recruits. Sustaining casualties daily requires them to reach out for foreign fighter recruits outside the country who are less likely to have such strong family/clan influences. Even then, the numbers look weak.