The BBC is reporting clashes in Dhuusa Marreeb between al Shabaab and Ahlu Sunna again today. At least 47 were killed and 100 wounded as Ahlu Sunna reclaimed the town after an offensive by al Shabaab yesterday that led to at least a short-term victory.
Who is Ahlu Sunna wal Jamaah?
The paramilitary group was founded in 1991 as a non-violent group dedicated to the defense of Sufi orders in Somalia. The group took up arms after al Shabaab desecrated the tombs of important Sufi sheiks. Today the group is reportedly led by Mo’alin Mohamed Sheik Hassan and aligned with the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) of Somalia. The group also reportedly receives shipments of arms from Ethiopia to enable additional offensive efforts against al Shabaab and Hizb-ul-Islam. The group’s Wikipedia entry claims large victories in central Somalia and control of “the majority of southern Mudug and Galgaduud and parts of Hiiraan, Middle Shabelle and Bay.”
In December, Garowe Online reported on a new operational design for al Shabaab. The concept centers on a strategy of the encirclement of Mogadishu in an effort to secure their flanks and consolidate power before defeating Hizb-ul-Islam inside the city. After Hizb-ul-Islam is defeated, Somalis in the southern and central portions of the country will have no viable alternative to the TFG other than al Shabaab. This will allow al Shabaab to consolidate all armed Islamic opposition to the TFG under its banner, and enable a united effort (led by al Shabaab) against the government and their militias (like Ahlu Sunna). Read more from Dr. Weinstein here.
If accurate, the attack on Dhuusa Marreeb makes sense as al Shabaab continues to push north and east to the coastline north of Mogadishu. Al Shabaab’s reported encirclement strategy makes Ahlu Sunna’s efforts in Galgaduud that much more important. If al Shabaab is able to defeat Ahlu Sunna as far north into Galgaduud as Dhuusa Marreeb, the group will have no solid opposition in or around the Hiiraan Region, the western sector of its encirclement strategy and a Region largely under the sway of Hizb-ul-Islam.
All said, Ahlu Sunna likely is the strongest pro-TFG paramilitary group, so their efforts in Galgaduud Region are extremely vital to the TFG’s continued existence, albeit tenuous, in Mogadishu.