ANALYSIS-Bin Laden death will not dampen Somali insurgency.

Halkaan ka akhri

NAIROBI, May 5 (Reuters) – The killing of Osama bin Laden will not dampen the insurgency waged by Somalia’s al Qaeda affiliated militants, who are regrouping amid infighting among the country’s politicians.

After news broke of the raid on bin Laden’s hideout in Pakistan by U.S. commandos, some of al Shabaab’s combatants in the Somali capital Mogadishu wore white as a sign of grief, residents said. However, while Washington has branded the militant Islamist movement al Qaeda’s proxy in the Horn of Africa, analysts say it never fell under the operational control of bin Laden’s network.

Al Shabaab is battling to overthrow the Western-backed government and impose a harsh version of sharia law on the nation, although its predominately nationalist agenda is also coloured by clan rivalries and money-making rackets. “The death of Osama bin Laden will have minimal impact on the al Shabaab rank and file, nearly all of whom are young Somalis and few of whom are ideologically motivated,” said David Shinn, an adjunct professor of international affairs at George Washington University and a former U.S. envoy to Ethiopia.

“Bin Laden was never a major draw for them.” Nor does al Shabaab appear to lean heavily on al Qaeda for funding, instead appealing to the diaspora, taxing businesses and the popular mild narcotic khat, and controlling commerce through several ports in areas it runs. “A handful of top al Shabaab members might have fought with al Qaeda and a handful of al Qaeda members might have taken refuge among al Shabaab, but al Shabaab’s fighting capability is not correlated to al Qaeda,” said Stratfor’s Mark Schroeder.

UNDER SURVEILLANCE

The presence of largely Western funded African peacekeeping troops in Somalia helped the insurgents to champion a nationalist cause and recruit several hundred foreign fighters, some with a direct link to al Qaeda, analysts say. The United States has authorised covert operations across the Middle East and Horn of Africa and U.S. special forces killed one of east Africa’s top al Qaeda militants, Kenyan-born Saleh Ali Nabhan, in southern Somalia in September 2009.

Somalia expert Ken Menkhaus said details of the U.S. surveillance that led to bin Laden’s death might leave senior al Shabaab commanders feeling exposed and vulnerable. But that offers little comfort to Somalia’s neighbours who have lauded bin Laden’s death and fear reprisal attacks.

Uganda, which forms the backbone of the African Union peacekeeping force in Somalia, has seen an al Shabaab strike on its territory with a twin suicide bomb attack last year. “This doesn’t mark the end of the struggle because I expect retaliatory attacks from his (bin Laden’s) followers,” Uganda’s army spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Felix Kulayigye told Reuters. Kenya, hit by deadly al Qaeda suicide attacks in 1998 and 2002, hailed the Saudi fugitive’s death, but said more had to be done to bring stability to Somalia. East Africa’s biggest economy warned last month that three would-be suicide bombers, including two known to be trained by al Shabaab, were on the loose and planning attacks.

BREATHING SPACE

Peace remains a distant prospect in Somalia. The government relies on foreign troops and cash for its survival while al Shabaab controls parts of Mogadishu and vast swathes of the central and southern provinces. An offensive by Somali troops and African Union peacekeepers in Mogadishu earlier this year initially succeeded in seizing some rebel turf, but seemed to fizzle out as an escalating political row distracted leaders.

Instead of preparing for an election in August, as had been hoped for under a 2009 peace deal, the lawless nation’s politicians are embroiled in a row over who should cling onto power beyond the close of their mandates. Both president and parliament have unilaterally extended their own terms in office. Both reject the other’s action.

The dispute has pitted President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, a former Islamist rebel seeking another term in office, against Sharif Hassan Sheikh Aden, the speaker of parliament and Somalia’s second most powerful politician who harbours presidential ambitions. “There is no way in which the international community can support a leadership that has proved so inept, so incompetent,” said Rashid Abdi, a Somalia analyst at the International Crisis Group. One option being touted is an extension of parliament’s mandate — although donors are at odds over the duration — so lawmakers can elect a new speaker and president. It is widely accepted, though, that this would be route one to the presidency for the speaker given his wealth and clout in parliament, and would be rejected by Ahmed.

The infighting has provided breathing space for al Shabaab and most likely dashes any hopes that bin Laden’s death might hand Somali forces an opportunity to regain the initiative. “Any disarray in your enemy’s camp is a good thing. If these people are closeted in the (presidential) Villa Somalia not talking about military strategy but basically having a fist fight, that is a good thing for al Shabaab,” said Abdi. “Al Shabaab have time to breathe, recruit and re-arm.” (Additional reporting by Elias Biryabarema in Kampala; Editing by David Clarke and Janet Lawrence)

Source: Reuters

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