Check out CFR's dossier on those Somalia al Shabaab cats.
Leadership and Divisions
Tactics and Motivations
Links to al-Qaeda
And for the future?
The withdrawal of Ethiopian forces from Somalia in January 2009 removed the group's principal adversary. Yet al-Shabaab continues to launch suicide attacks against African Union peacekeepers in Somalia that often result in civilian casualties. As evidenced in the July 2010 Uganda bombings, the group has also directly targeted civilians in what may have been a retaliatory attack (Bloomberg) against Uganda for sending its troops on peacekeeping operations to Somalia. The FBI and U.S. Department of Homeland Security have warned that al-Shabaab's actions in Uganda could signal the group's capability of launching a successful attack beyond Africa, and even in the United States. Some experts see early signs of public opinion turning against al-Shabaab. First, clan-based militias have started to oppose al-Shabaab. In January 2009, militias repelled al-Shabaab's attempts to assert control in the central Somalia area of Galgadud. "There is a mobilization of various groupings of orthodox Sunni Muslims all over Somalia to form a broad front" against al-Shabaab, the International Crisis Group's Somalia observer told Voice of America in February 2009.
Looking ahead, there are several measures that will indicate al-Shabaab's level of strength and internal coherence: first, whether the group is able to maintain its territorial control over parts of Mogadishu and how far it can expand this control in Somalia; second, whether Somalia's business community decides to support the group; third, whether the Somali diaspora continues to fund al-Shabaab through the hawala money transfer system (it is not clear how much money al-Shabaab currently receives from the diaspora or other sources). Finally, analysts are closely watching the extent to which the Somali government, led by Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, negotiates with al-Shabaab.
The United States has launched air strikes to target high-level members of al-Shabaab it believes have links to al-Qaeda. In April 2010, President Barack Obama issued an executive order (PDF) aimed at blocking the finances of al-Shabaab's leaders and those who are contributing to the conflict in Somalia. Following the Uganda bombings, the Obama administration also indicated that it would boost its efforts against al-Shabaab, most likely in the form of increased assistance (IPS) to the African Union Mission in Somalia, which plans to send two thousand additional troops to the country, as well as to the Western-backed Transitional Federal Government (TFG) in Mogadishu.
But experts say these activities have only increased popular support for al-Shabaab. In a March 2010 CFR report, Bronwyn E. Bruton argues that "the open blessing of the TFG by the United States and other Western countries has perversely served to isolate the government and, at the same time, to propel cooperation among previously fractured and quarrelsome extremist groups." She proposes a "constructive disengagement" policy that recognizes al-Shabaab's Islamist rule in Somalia as long as it does not engage in regional violence or terrorism.