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Is Al-Qaeda Being Defeated in Somalia?

More needs to be done on the financial front to ensure that al-Shabab does not have the capability to rejuvenate. Shutting down the financial lifeblood to the movement is just as important as the military campaign on the ground.

For example, al-Shabab blackmails aid agencies to pay it off — a 10-15 percent registration fee (usually $4,000 to $10,000, plus 20 percent of every project they do). If a charity opens a feeding center or health clinic, one-fifth of the cost must be taken from helping the country’s poor in order to finance the revolutionaries.

Al-Shabab also deforests much of the area it controls to make charcoal that can be exported to Gulf Arab states in order to finance its war. The chopping down of trees contributes to famine by taking away a local source of livelihood.

The African Union and other forces also need to have a clear political strategy. Areas liberated from al-Shabab control, such as Hiran, Galgudud, or Mudug, are little more than tiny fiefdoms at the whim of the local clan militia commander. There are already 14 to 20 “mini-states” in the country where people’s needs are ignored, a possible motive for popular support for the Islamists in the future.

The situation in Somalia shows that revolutionary Islamist forces can be defeated but only if the combatting side gets its economic and political strategy together.