The TFG has been bragging that it plans to launch an offensive against al-Shebab beyond the confines of Mogadishu, but that appears to be an idle boast.For the time being, the TFG can only encourage clan leaders opposed to al-Shebab to move against them.Al-Shebab's main adversary right now is Ahlu Sunna Wal-Jamaa militia in central Somalia.This is backed by neighboring Ethiopia, which invaded Somalia with U.S. backing in December 2006 to drive out a short-lived Islamist government and install the TFG.Ahlu Sunna Wal-Jamaa was established when the Ethiopian military withdrew from Somalia in January 2009 as a means for Addis Ababa to contain the Islamist threat on its border.Al-Shebab and the Ahlu Sunna Wal-Jamaa, whose fighters are more moderate Sufi Muslims, clashed inconclusively around the central town of Dusa Marreb in January.
Al-Shebab has seized several areas in the south and center, but analysts differ over whether it has the strength or popularity to take over the country and impose its strict version of Islamic law.U.S. and other Western intelligence services say al-Shebab has a large number of foreign jihadists in its ranks and is backed by al-Qaida. But that remains questionable.It undoubtedly has some non-Somali fighters, but it is not thought these number more than a few score at most. Still, the West is concerned that Somalia is becoming a haven for international terrorists and that al-Qaida cadres from Afghanistan and Pakistan are moving into the region.
Many of al-Shebab's leaders are radical Somali veterans of the wars in Afghanistan. In 2008 Ahmed Abdi Godane, aka Abu Zubeyr, became its top commander. He has been described as a "hardcore jihadist."
On Feb. 2 al-Shebab declared for the first time that it has formally aligned with al-Qaida. It said in a statement that the "jihad of the Horn of Africa must be combined with the international jihad led by the al-Qaida network."