President Trump has declared that the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria is “100%” defeated.
It seems unlikely he will ever say the same about Somalia’s al-Shabab.
Words such as “eradicate” and “eliminate” — staples of the lexicon used by the Obama and Trump administrations when laying out their ultimate goal in the battle against the Islamic State — are largely absent from the discussion surrounding al-Shabab, the al Qaeda affiliate estimated to control roughly 20% of Somalia and boasting at least 5,000 trained fighters. Analysts say America’s limited policy will never result in a declaration of total victory in the little-understood war, and measuring tangible success in one of the most historically unstable, unpredictable corners of the world will be difficult.
The result: Al-Shabab is not seen as strong enough to make a serious effort to supplant the U.S.-allied government in Mogadishu, but there is also little immediate prospect of ousting the group from its strongholds in southern Somalia and in small pockets of neighboring Kenya and Ethiopia.
“They’re not making the effort to fully beat them,” said Bill Roggio, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies who closely tracks the war in Somalia. “I don’t think you’ll ever see President Trump mentioning Somalia in terms like he did with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. … You can see that the effort isn’t designed to deal al-Shabab a death blow.”
The U.S. has waged an intensive air campaign against the group for years and has conducted at least 33 strikes in Somalia this year against al-Shabab and Islamic State targets, according to Pentagon figures.