June 29, 2023
Salafi-Jihadi Movement Update Special Edition: Al Shabaab Increases Attacks on Somalia’s Neighbors
Key Takeaway: Al Shabaab is increasing the rate and severity of its attacks in northeastern Kenya and against Ethiopian forces in Somalia, likely to boost recruitment and local support in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia. Al Shabaab may also intend to undermine the ability of Ethiopia and Kenya to effectively participate in an offensive against the group in southern Somalia.
Al Shabaab is increasing the rate and severity of its attacks in northeastern Kenya and against Ethiopian forces in Somalia, likely to boost recruitment and local support in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia. The group has carried out at least 19 attacks in northeastern Kenya in June, after averaging only one attack per month since February 2023. The group also conducted two multi–suicide vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (SVBIED) attacks targeting Ethiopian bases in southwestern Somalia’s Gedo region on June 7 and 21. These were the first al Shabaab suicide attacks targeting Ethiopian forces since it attempted to invade Ethiopia in the summer of 2022.
The attacks and al Shabaab’s rhetoric follow its pan-Somali narrative that brands Ethiopia and Kenya as foreign, Christian occupiers, which it uses to draw support from Somalis across the Horn of Africa. This framing includes demanding the withdrawal of Ethiopian and Kenyan troops from Somalia and framing the Ethiopian and Kenyan governments as occupiers in the ethnically Somali areas of northeastern Kenya and Ethiopia’s Ogaden Region.
Figure 1. Al Shabaab Increases Attacks in Northeastern Kenya and Against Ethiopian Forces in Somalia
Source: Liam Karr.
Al Shabaab may also intend to undermine the ability of Ethiopia and Kenya to effectively participate in an offensive against the group in southern Somalia. Somali officials announced in March that Djibouti, Ethiopia, and Kenya would send additional troops outside of the African Union mission to participate in counter–al Shabaab operations by June, but only Ethiopia has deployed troops. The attacks and al Shabaab’s rhetoric aim to increase anti-Ethiopian and anti-Kenyan sentiment among the local population and erode the legitimacy of Ethiopian and Kenyan participation in an offensive against al Shabaab. Al Shabaab has not increased attacks against Djiboutian forces in Somalia because it lacks suitable havens to stage attacks in the areas of central Somalia where Djiboutian forces operate. This lack of havens is due to Somali counterinsurgency operations since the summer of 2022.
Kenya’s response to the al Shabaab attacks will degrade the ability of Kenyan forces to escalate effective ground operations in Somalia. Kenya launched retaliatory air strikes in al Shabaab–controlled areas of southern Somalia on June 23 and 24. Somali media and al Shabaab claimed the strikes caused civilian casualties, which would further exacerbate anti-Kenyan sentiment. The attacks also add additional demands on Kenyan forces that could prevent them from sending additional forces into Somalia. Al Shabaab has said that it will escalate attacks in Kenya in retaliation for future air strikes in Somalia, which would further strain the capacity of Kenyan forces.
Figure 2. The Salafi-Jihadi Movement in Africa
Source: Kathryn Tyson.
 Author’s research.
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 SITE Intelligence Group, “Shabaab Threatens Revenge for Kenya's ‘Cowardly Attacks’ on Somali Civilians”