Somalia's army remains “incapable” of ousting Al-Shabaab from its strongholds, enabling the insurgents to exercise continued control over large parts of the country, the US State Department said on Wednesday.
As another indication of failure to stifle Shabaab militants after 13 years of counterinsurgency warfare, the Al-Qaeda-affiliated group last year carried out more than 1,000 attacks inside Somalia and in northern Kenya, the State Department noted in its Country Reports on Terrorism 2019.
The Somalia section of the annual global survey estimates that Al-Shabaab has between 7,000 and 9,000 members.
The group funds its actions through “illegal charcoal production and exports, taxation of local populations and businesses, and by means of remittances and other money transfers from the Somali diaspora,” the report adds.
The State Department does not offer an estimate of the size of Shabaab's war chest.
Targeted operations carried out by Somali military units trained and equipped by the United States are said to stand as exceptions to the national army's ineffectiveness.
But the report makes no mention of the intensified campaign of air attacks launched by the US Africa Command (Africom) against Al-Shabaab targets.
Africom carried out 63 such strikes last year, compared to 47 in 2018 and 35 in 2017.
Somali officials “failed to implement vital national security reforms and pass legislation that could help enhance the government’s capacity to secure and govern effectively at all levels,” the report observes.
But it finds that the federal government “remained a willing partner to US efforts to improve the quality of policing entities throughout the country.”
The Kenyan government is also described as a “willing US partner” in investigating, prosecuting and responding to terrorist attacks.
However, the report notes that Kenyan security forces were reported to have engaged in human rights violations in their counter-terrorism operations. Alleged abuses included extra-judicial killings, disappearances and torture.
But the Kenyan police and army are lauded for their response to the January 2019 DusitD2 Hotel attack. Their performance on that occasion was “in line with international standards for protection of human rights in response to terrorist threats and attacks,” the report says.
Kenya's prosecution of suspected terrorists exhibits both progress and shortcomings, the US finds.
“Terrorism case trials often proceeded slowly and inefficiently,” the report states, noting that the three remaining defendants in the 2013 Westgate Mall attack were still on trial at the end of 2019.
“Significant victories” achieved last year included the reinstatement of convictions and 15-year sentences of two Iranians involved in a disrupted bomb plot in 2012.
Also last year, a Kenyan court found three of four defendants guilty of the 2015 Garissa University massacre.