Al-Shabab, Somalia’s most dangerous terror group is likely not getting any stronger according to U.S. officials. The U.S. contends that despite a series of deadly attacks, including one that claimed the life of a U.S. special operations soldier earlier this month, it was more lucky than good during that attack.
The assessment, by U.S. military and counterintelligence officials, runs contrary to the conclusions of some analysts and comes as al-Shabab has been flexing its military might in recent weeks, highlighting attacks on both Somali and African Union forces.
One of the most publicized of these was a brazen June 8 attack on an outpost under construction two kilometers north of the town of Sanguni, in the Lower Jubba region of Somalia.
The al-Qaida-linked militants skirmished with a force of 800 Somali and Kenyan forces accompanied by U.S. special operations soldiers, one of whom was killed by mortar fire.
U.S. officials are still trying to determine the size of the al-Shabab force at the time of the attack but say there is no indication of any increased capability.
“It was a lucky shot,” a U.S. military official told VOA on condition of anonymity. “I wouldn’t consider this a well-executed attack.”
Another military official said, in many ways, the deadly attack was typical of al-Shabab operations.
“Historically, al-Shabab has been willing to engage large forces, often using surprise and asymmetric tactics to improve their chances for success,” said Lt. Cmdr. Desiree Frame, a spokesperson for U.S. Africa Command. “We expect to see more conflict in southern Somalia as Somali Government Forces, AMISOM, and their partners make in-roads into al-Shabab-held territory.”
Still, some analysts warn it is wrong to downplay the strides al-Shabab has made since being kicked out of its last urban stronghold, the port city of Kismayo, in 2012.
“It’s clear that we’re not just seeing a spike in attacks related to the Ramadan campaign,” said Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, a senior analyst at the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies. “It’s clear that the organization has gotten stronger.”
Regardless of the differing opinions on their capability, al-Shabab will probably be seeing plenty of focus from the US-led coalition in Somalia in the coming days.
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