April 13, 2018
Al Shabaab’s Vehicle-Borne IED Campaign: January 2017–March 2018
Al Shabaab’s vehicle-borne improvised explosive attacks serve as a metric to evaluate the group’s ability to disrupt the Somali National Army (SNA) and African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) forces and threaten the Somali Federal Government (SFG). An ongoing Somali military offensive, backed by the U.S. and an African Union peacekeeping force, has recaptured territory from al Shabaab in south-central Somalia, but has not eliminated al Shabaab’s ability to conduct VBIED attacks. The group uses VBIEDs to breach security installations, often times passing through checkpoints, and conduct high-casualty attacks against government and military personnel. Outside of Mogadishu, the group uses VBIEDs to gain entry to military bases in order to procure weapons and other supplies and to eliminate AMISOM or Somali government forces from the area, allowing the group to supplant government influence and control populations. U.S.-backed Somali ground operations along with improved counter-VBIED capabilities among Somali forces may have slightly decreased VBIED attacks between November 2017 and January 2018.  [See Figure 2.] These countermeasures, nevertheless, have not eliminated al Shabaab’s VBIED capability. Al Shabaab’s limited ability to manufacture new VBIEDs, evidenced by reset periods between clusters of attacks, may have contributed to the reduction in VBIED attacks. Al Shabaab will most likely innovate to adapt to new countermeasures. The group developed new ambush tactics to force convoys into IED-laden traps in order to counter IED-resistant vehicles in 2011, for example. Continuing to improve the Somali security forces’ and AMISOM’s counter-IED capabilities could reduce the effectiveness of al Shabaab’s VBIED attacks. But such a reduction should not be taken as success without simultaneous ground pressure and the reduction of local grievances.
 Katherine Zimmerman, Emily Estelle, and Matthew Cassidy, “Al Shabaab Persists in Somalia,” AEI’s Critical Threats Project, February 7, 2018, https://www.criticalthreats.org/briefs/threat-update/al-shabaab-persists-in-somalia; Jordan Indermuehle, “Al Shabaab Area of Operations October 2017,” AEI’s Critical Threats Project, October 16, 2017, https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/al-shabaab-area-of-operations-october-2017; “Somali forces recapture Baladul Amin in Lower Shabelle region,” Goobjoog, November 29, 2017, http://goobjoog.com/english/somali-forces-recapture-baladul-amin-in-lower-shabelle-region/; and “Gulf of Aden Security Review: February 12, 2018,” AEI’s Critical Threats Project, February 12, 2018, https://www.criticalthreats.org/briefs/gulf-of-aden-security-review/gulf-of-aden-security-review-february-12-2018.
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 Abdi Sheikh and Feisal Omar, “Al Shabaab car bomb outside Mogadishu army base kills at least 15: military, Reuters, April 9, 2017, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-somalia-blast/al-shabaab-car-bomb-outside-mogadishu-army-base-kills-at-least-15-military-idUSKBN17B0BL; Jane Onyanga-Omara, “Conflicting reports after 'scores killed' in Somalia attack,” USA Today, January 27, 2017, https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2017/01/27/al-shabab-kenya-claim-dozens-deaths-somalia-attack/97126328/; “Al Shabaab attacks military base near Somalia's Kismayu: military,” Reuters, September 3, 2017, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-somalia-security/al-shabaab-attacks-military-base-near-somalias-kismayu-military-idUSKCN1BE07V; and Katherine Zimmerman, Jacqulyn Meyer Kantack, Colin Lahiff and Jordan Indermuehle, “US Counterterrorism Objectives in Somalia: Is Mission Failure Likely?” AEI’s Critical Threats Project, March 1, 2017, https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/us-counterterrorism-objectives-in-somalia-is-mission-failure-likely. Transferring the VBIED capability required al Shabaab to either establish a VBIED cell in south-central Somalia or move a cell through the region.
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 Harun Maruf, “US Airstrikes in Somalia Increasing Pressure on al-Shabab,” Voice of America, December 29, 2017, https://www.voanews.com/a/us-airstrikes-somalia-al-shabab/4183996.html; “Gulf of Aden Security Review: February 14, 2018, AEI’s Critical Threats Project, February 14, 2018, https://www.criticalthreats.org/briefs/gulf-of-aden-security-review/gulf-of-aden-security-review-february-14-2014-5a846f72a9146; “Gulf of Aden Security Review: February 12, 2018,” AEI’s Critical Threats Project, February 12, 2018, https://www.criticalthreats.org/briefs/gulf-of-aden-security-review/gulf-of-aden-security-review-february-12-2018; “Threat Update Situation Report: February 21, 2018,” AEI’s Critical Threats Project, February 21, 2018, https://www.criticalthreats.org/briefs/threat-update/libya-faces-crossroads-seven-years-after-revolution; “Government issues 'terror warning' in Mogadishu,” Hiiraan Online, February 23, 2018, https://www.hiiraan.com/news4/2018/Feb/156922/government_issues_terror_warning_in_mogadishu.aspx; Harun Maruf, Twitter, February 23, 2018, https://twitter.com/HarunMaruf/status/967066444616949761; Associated Press Africa, Twitter, February 23, 2018, https://twitter.com/AP_Africa/status/967069166732824576; “ 2 blasts, gunfire rock Somalia’s capital; 3 said killed,” Associated Press, February 23, 2018, https://www.apnews.com/b74893c7564a4f1983b362fa8621a189; “ Somalia Averts Major Attack As 2 Explosive Laden Vehicles Destroyed Near Afgoye,” Radio Dalsan, February 13, 2018, http://radiodalsan.com/en/2-explosive-laden-vehicles-destroyed-near-afgoye/; “Somali forces destroy Alshabaab radio station in Lower Shabelle,” Hiiraan Online, February 13, 2018, https://hiiraan.com/news4/2018/Feb/146774/somali_forces_destroy_alshabaab_radio_station_in_lower_shabelle_region.aspx; and “Gulf of Aden Security Review: February 12, 2018,” AEI’s Critical Threats Project, February 12, 2018, https://www.criticalthreats.org/briefs/gulf-of-aden-security-review/gulf-of-aden-security-review-february-12-2018.
 Daisy Muibu, Benjamin P. Nickels, “Foreign Technology or Local Expertise? Al-Shabaab’s IED Capability,” Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, November 2017, https://ctc.usma.edu/foreign-technology-or-local-expertise-al-shabaabs-ied-capability/; and “Somalia report of the Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea submitted in accordance with resolution 751 and 1907,” United Nations Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea, July 18, 2011, http://www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/2011/433.