The joint U.S./Somali-backed Special Operations counter-terror force may be the answer to the al-Shabaab problem. In just this last year, al-Shabaab has increased its “hit-and-run” tactics from the lower Shabelle region to the crowded streets of Mogadishu at unprecedented rates. Brazen daylight suicide bombings along with coordinated, pinpointed, targeted attacks upon the political and judicial infrastructure in and around the Somali capital have become commonplace.
Al-Shabaab is now truly a major problem for the city and its innocent civilians caught in their crossfire. After several months of rumors and innuendos, Somali president Hassan Sheikh Mohamud has allowed a “leak” of information on his new U.S.-Special-Operations-trained counter-terrorism force—the Gaashan, which translates literally as “The Shield.”
You could almost feel the outrage within the Somali government after the daytime suicide attacks last year on April 14, in which the Benadir regional court complex was blasted by a suicide “commando unit” that, once the smoke and debris was cleared, left 29 innocent civilians dead. As the court complex attack was unfolding with thick, acrid black smoke billowing into the afternoon sky, another coordinated attack took place along the main road heading toward Mogadishu’s Aden Adde International Airport in which a remotely detonated vehicle-born improvised-explosive device (VBIED) struck a Turkish convoy—killing the local Somali driver.
The April 14 attacks were largely condemned as an act of desperation by the very terrorists who have lost most of their strongholds in the regions of Lower Shabelle and its once crown jewel, the port town of Kismayo. This harsh criticism was largely because, just two days prior to these coordinated and planned attacks, al-Shabaab’s second-in-command and founding member, Ibrahim al-Afghani, sent an open letter to al-Qaeda leader Sheikh Ayman al-Zawahiri criticizing the now-deceased al-Shabaab leader Ahmed Abdi Godane.
Al-Afghani, the only founding member of al-Shabbab to be trained in the al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan, stated “Godane has created an atmosphere devoid of new ideas, calling anyone who questions him a traitor. Godane has secret prisons where whoever enters is lost forever. What happens in there are horrifically shocking violations of prisoners’ rights.” The now late American-born Omar Hammami, also known as Abu Mansour al-Amriki, echoed these sentiments, replying via his Twitter account saying, “Al-Afghani was a key founder of shabaab and the amir shura.”
He continues by stating, “Shabaab has changed [strategy] from choosing best of legit targets to hitting whatever target they can and then legitimizing it later.” Al-Amriki was best known for his hip-hop-laden recruitment videos which targeted U.S. and UK jihadis looking to join the “Ummah” or “nation” to fight the kaffirs. After several failed attempts on his life, he was hunted down and finally killed by pro-Godane fighters in late 2013.
It seemed like the Somali federal government was fed up, and they were about to take control of the city by any means. On April 20 of last year, Minister Abdikarim Hussein Guled announced a Somali Special Forces unit would be patrolling the streets of Mogadishu, effectively taking over security operations for the war-torn urban hub of the Somali capital. Enter the Alpha Group, the apparent first component of the new Gaashan. Some sources also refer to Alpha Group as the Danab, which means “Lightning.” This is a 150-person unit that we believe can become a source of future leadership for the entire army,” U.S. Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman said in June.
Little is known about this purportedly Central Intelligence Agency “ground branch” unit. Their capabilities range from direct action assault missions on time-sensitive targets acquired through human intelligence gathering and possibly signal intelligence, such as intercepting cell phone communications, to key leader and VIP protection. Alpha Group has no doubt also been trained in sensitive site exploitation (SSE), where specific items are taken from a target’s location, such as computer hard drives and other communications—both written and electronic—for further analysis. This has proven to be a huge assist in developing targeting packets of certain persons of interest, as well as helping to populate targeting decks, which allows direct action or interdiction missions to be planned and executed.
Danab also incorporates what is known as “snatch-and-grab” operations, where suspected terrorists are targeted, captured, and then interrogated within the confines of the Alpha Group’s compound near Aden Adde International Airport. Somali federal government intelligence officials confirmed that the CIA maintains a quiet, yet heavy presence in not only the city itself but within the very compound that houses this counter-terror unit. The United States openly supported and confirmed the presence of U.S. military members in an advisory role with the Alpha Group in October 2013, shortly after the Westgate mall attack in Nairobi, Kenya, where an official statement from the Pentagon stated: “The Defense Department maintains a small presence in Somalia primarily to coordinate U.S. efforts to counter the threat from al Qaeda and al-Shabaab with related efforts to the international community.”
According to a Toronto Star report, five U.S. members of a “military coordination cell” deployed to Somalia in October, and a recent New York Times report suggested at least 120 “operators” were on the ground to fill a “training role.” In an interview in late 2013, a former Somalian chief-of-staff said that the then 150-member unit has become a “fundamental part of Somalia’s security and intelligence architecture.” And in a June, 2014 article, the United States Institute of Peace confirmed these personnel numbers along with a healthy two billion dollars in defense funding through during an interview with the Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman. The Somali National Intelligence and Security Agency, which receives training and mentorship from the Central Intelligence Agency, echoed these sentiments as well. But you can never have too much of a good thing, right?
One hundred kilometers from Mogadishu, just outside the “suburbs” of a small city called Wanlaweyn, lies Somalia’s second biggest airport in the country, Baledogle. Baledogle is what you would expect as far as aesthetics. Reddish-brown dirt marks the surrounding plots, along with loose, tan topsoil, which whips up into happy little dust devils that you see throughout arid climes. Nothing as far as the eye can see. Perfect for a U.S. Special Forces “A-Team” to set up a surreptitious training camp.
Various sources in and around this area have confirmed that this is exactly what is happening at this isolated airstrip. This is relatively new information coming out of this area. Accusations of Navy SEALS and Delta Force being involved with the training seem flimsy at best. U.S. Special Forces or Green Berets carry the torch when it comes to these types of operations. Especially when it comes to foreign internal defense training (FID). The Green Berets train in phases in regards to FID.
Phase one: Assess the “whole person” to establish a certain aptitude for conflict and war. Then, they push phase two, which is the “train-the-trainer” mentality to further empower the potential “operator” with leadership, command, and control presence. Finally, phase three: The members of the A-Team take on an advisory role where they either accompany their foreign counterparts on live operational missions where they can directly assist the commander of the operation, or the U.S. Special Forces trainer stays within the compound and directs, advises, and controls the flow of the operation via radio communications.
All this attention to detail and overt U.S. support is how one would “prep a battle space.” Historically U.S. Army Special Forces are experts at this. The successes of the first 150 members of Alpha Group have no doubt driven General James B. Linder—the SOCAFRICOM commander within the U.S. AFRICOM major command—to tap various U.S. Army Special Forces Alpha Teams to assess, develop, and then implement a foreign internal-defense training plan to further the depth of Alpha Groups’ available team rosters.
The scene at Baledogle is the perfect scenario for training FID forces. The airport can support all known platforms of rotary-wing aircraft. Runway 22 is more than long enough to support various fixed-wing aircraft such as Lockheed’s C-130 Hercules transport aircraft. With runway four looking rather damaged, it most likely seems to only be able to support, if desired, unmanned aerial-vehicle operations. With unconfirmed reports of the arrival of at least a thousand new recruits to the undisclosed Baledogle forward operation base, one only need wonder when those fresh recruits will be on the streets of Mogadishu or on an air-assault operation into Sheikh Muktar Robow’s backyard—a mere 140-kilometer flight from the edge of runway four.
History has proven that one can’t hide these types of logistical movements for long, and one can only wonder if Baledogle and its white faces, beards, and muscles are the answer to the al-Shabaab problem or the beginning of yet another permanent U.S.-supported fixture in Africa, like Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti.
(Featured Image Courtesy: Medium)