While al Shabaab and Hizbul Islam failed in their May 2009 attempt to topple the Western-backed Transitional Federal Government (TFG) in Mogadishu, al Shabaab remains a potent force in much of the rest of the country, particularly in southern Somalia. Hizbul Islam, on the other hand, appears to be coming undone. It is likely that certain Somali warlords will continue to use the name to “brand” their respective militias, but the Hizbul Islam that assaulted Mogadishu with al Shabaab in May 2009 has ceased to exist.
Al Shabaab is fighting a three-front war for control of Somalia — one in the south, one in the west along the Ethiopian border and one in the Mogadishu area. Al Shabaab’s two main enemies in the capital, the TFG and the roughly 4,300-strong African Union peacekeeping force, do not often venture far from the capital and never go into southern Somalia. Aside from its enemies in Mogadishu, al Shabaab’s two main opponents are the Ethiopian-backed militia Ahlu Sunna and a clan-based former faction of Hizbul Islam sometimes referred to as Anole, led by Sheikh Ahmed Madobe.
There is no evidence that Anole and Ahlu Sunna are coordinating with one another in the fight against al Shabaab. Ahlu Sunna, which recently made known its desire to align with the TFG, occupies the front that abuts the Ethiopian border, while the reemergence of Madobe’s forces in the corridor between the southern towns of Dhobley and Afmadow has formed the front along Somalia’s border with Kenya.
Al Shabaab secured these towns in November 2009, when, riding on momentum from the group’s defeat of Hizbul Islam in the southern port town of Kismayo, its forces rapidly swept westward to the Kenyan border. In the wake of al Shabaab’s relatively easy conquest of the region stretching from Kismayo to Dhobley, the seeds for the disintegration of Hizbul Islam’s southern branch were planted.
Hizbul Islam, created in February 2009 in opposition to the TFG, originally was composed of four clan-based militias based in different regions of Somalia: the Ras Kamboni Brigades, Anole, the Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia (ARS) and the Somali Islamic Front. Hizbul Islam was led by Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, who briefly ruled Somalia in 2006 as head of the Islamic Courts Union. Aweys currently resides in the Mogadishu area as head of the ARS (which he continues to refer to as Hizbul Islam), though he no longer wields the influence he once had.
The two most important of the four factions at the moment — Ras Kamboni Brigades, led by Sheikh Hassan al-Turki, and Madobe’s Anole — are based out of southern Somalia.
It was these two factions that were collectively referred to as Hizbul Islam when they shared control of Kismayo with al Shabaab. Madobe was reportedly second-in-command under al-Turki in this power structure. Following al Shabaab’s takeover of Kismayo in October 2009 and its subsequent spread to the Kenyan border in November, Madobe’s faction was forced to retreat. According to some reports, Madobe crossed the Kenyan border to take refuge in Nairobi, though Madobe denies this. Al-Turki, on the other hand, attempted to engage in dialogue with al Shabaab, since he likely saw the logic in forming an alliance with a group whose strength was surging.
On Feb. 1, officials of al Shabaab and Ras Kamboni (including al-Turki himself) met in the southern town of Baidoa to announce a merger between the two groups. A notable part of the agreement was the fact that Ras Kamboni had agreed to change its name and adopt the moniker of al Shabaab, a sign that it was entering its coalition with its new partner from a position of weakness. One day later, on Feb. 2, Madobe announced his continued opposition to al Shabaab and claimed responsibility for recent attacks against the jihadist group in Afmadow. This coincided with other Feb. 2 reports that al Shabaab had engaged Madobe’s forces in Dhobley.
Though Madobe’s faction has returned to southern Somalia, al Shabaab still easily maintains the dominant position in this region, and its merger with Ras Kamboni has strengthened it even further. However, the group has not yet demonstrated that it has sufficient forces to eliminate threats to its dominance in the regions of Somalia not controlled by the government. The TFG has made clear its intention to undertake an offensive against al Shabaab that will extend beyond Mogadishu, but according to STRATFOR sources, this is merely talk. The TFG does not even control all of its own capital. It is likely that the TFG is leaving it up to Ahlu Sunna to continue doing the job for them. Battles such as the one that reportedly took place Feb. 2 at Bula Hawa between al Shabaab and Ahlu Sunna are indicative of Ahlu Sunna’s role in curbing al Shabaab’s influence along the Ethiopian border. ,.. source,STRATFOR