Faced by an increasingly lethal air campaign by Somalia’s allies, Al-Shabab (AS) was forced to change its tactics. In the third quarter of 2018, the aggregate tempo of AS attacks slightly slowed down compared to the second quarter of the year. It was forced to conduct fewer massed attacks, and instead increased its urban guerrilla warfare of terrorist attacks against government offices and businesses that refuse to pay its taxes.
There was a more than a two-fold increase in bombings, suggesting that AS made a conscious decision to switch to bombings as its primary source of targeting the Somali government and its allies as an efficient attack method that does not expose its men to attacks. Likewise, while AS-perpetrated assassinations have dipped compared to the second quarter when they increased because of Ramadan, IS Somalia increased its attacks and assassinations have therefore slightly increased; ISS was responsible for more than a fifth of all such assassinations in this quarter.
The major areas of decline were in the number of direct military attacks on government bases. The increase in Special Forces operations and air strikes seem to have forced AS to implement security measures to mitigate risks, therefore increasing the planning to execution cycle.
Figure 1 AS attacks Jul-Sept 2018
AS attacks were mostly clustered in the Lower Shabelle region where the group lost Marka town and has been harassing the troops in and around that city. Likewise, it is strongly contesting the government’s hold in Afgoi, 30KM to the northwest of the capital. It occupied Afgoi three times during this period. The below heat map shows the areas of greatest concentration of AS raids.
Figure 2 AS raids into areas around Mogadishu
While AS is clearly still more active than the allies, attacks against the group have increased by more than 62% as is shown the figure below. An increase in Special Forces operations in Lower Shabelle and Jubbaland combined with more activity by the Jubbaland security forces are responsible for the allies’ increased activities. At the same time, AS attacks have gone down by more than 21% as shown above.
The number of assassinations have almost stayed the same compared to the second quarter, as can be seen from the below figure.
Assassinations are clustered around the capital and in Bosaso in Puntland where the Islamic State has increased its activities. As can be seen in the two diagrams below, Mogadishu is the epicentre of the assassinations campaign.
Figure 6 Heat map of assassinations in Mogadishu Jul-Sep 2018
Figure 7 Assassinations Jul-Sep 2018
The assassination campaign of AS has slowed down despite the small increase in killings. Assassinations increased slightly because IS Somalia increased its killings of government officials and businessmen.
The bombing campaign
The explosives department of AS went into overdrive in the third quarter, carrying out 136% more bombings than the second quarter, as depicted in the below figure.
As with the assassinations and raids, the bombing campaign was dispersed across the country but centred in Mogadishu. The group however carried out attacks as far north as Buhotle and as far south as Lamu county in Kenya.
Figure 10: Bombings in Mogadishu. Jul-Sept 2018
Figure 11: The AS bombing campaign, July-Sep 2018
Mogadishu remains the primary focus of AS, while the primary focus of ISS is Bosaso; however, both groups operate in both cities. ISS has moved beyond taxing in Bosaso and has started asking for businesses in Mogadishu to give it taxes; it assassinated businessmen in Bakara market for refusing to pay its taxes. The joint efforts of IS and AS have made Mogadishu the primary subject of all types of attacks, as shown in the below heat maps.
Figure 12 Combined attacks in the greater Mogadishu area, Jul-Sep 2018
Figure 13 Combined attacks across the region Jul-Sep 2018