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Sep 28, 2012 | 15:13 GMT

Somalia: Al Shabaab Leaders After the Battle for Kismayo

CARL DE SOUZA/AFP/Getty Images

On Sept. 28, Kenyan Defense Forces entered the Somali port city of Kismayo, an important financial hub and the last urban stronghold of jihadist group al Shabaab. Operating under the aegis of the African Union Mission to Somalia, Kenyan Defense Forces reportedly have taken control of Kismayo, though fighting in the city continues.

Kenyan Defense Forces launched a joint ground, naval and air assault against al Shabaab strongholds in Kismayo, including at the city's airport, several days earlier. Kenyan Defense Forces have conducted operations against towns outside Kismayo since Oct. 2011, striking at al Shabaab peripheral positions and forcing the jihadists to disperse fighters for defensive purposes.

Kenyan Defense Forces will try to consolidate their control over Kismayo in the coming days. In conjunction with Kenyan Defense Forces troops, the African Union Mission in Somalia will continue to rely on the area's ethnic Somali militia, Ras Kamboni, to surveil and engage al Shabaab leaders and fighters. Control of Kismayo will benefit Kenyan Defense Forces, which can use the city's port, rather than land routes from Kenya, for logistical operations.

The assault on Kismayo likely will force al Shabaab leadership to abandon the city. In fact, some leaders already have retreated to southern and central Somalia — a move in line with the group's tactics. Al Shabaab typically abstains from engaging a superior conventional army; instead, the group opts for guerilla operations against enemy supply lines and outposts. Kenyan Defense Forces will likely face these kinds of assaults in Kismayo, where it now must secure and hold its positions, and in other towns in southern Somalia's Lower Juba region, which are critical supply routes for both sides. Other African Union Mission in Somalia forces in Mogadishu have faced al Shabaab guerilla attacks.

Prior to the assault on Kismayo, African Union Mission in Somalia operations caused al Shabaab leadership to break into several factions. One faction, Hizbul Islam, which espouses a nationalist ideology, broke from al Shabaab on Sept. 24. Hizbul Islam's leader, Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, said disagreements over ideology and strategic intent prompted his group to leave al Shabaab. Aweys reportedly is in Barawa, a small port town between Kismayo and Mogadishu.

According to Stratfor sources, Sheikh Mukhtar Robow, aka abu Mansur, who leads a different nationalist faction, is now operating in Diinsoor, a town in Somalia's Bay region. The faction's spokesman, Sheikh Fuad Mohamed Khalaf, aka Fuaad Shongole, reportedly is with Robow. Meanwhile, the whereabouts of al Shabaab transnationalist faction leader Ahmed Abdi Godane, aka Mukhtar Abu Zubayr, are unknown. These leaders will keep their movements erratic and unannounced to survive special operations and unmanned aerial vehicle attacks aimed to capture or kill them.

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