RULAC Classifies the Armed Violence between al-Shabab and the Islamic State in Somalia as a Non-International Armed Conflict

In October 2015, a faction of al-Shabab splintered and pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, hence founding the Islamic State in Somalia group (ISS). Since 2018, ISS is operating in central and southern Somalia, leading to intense clashes with al-Shabab.

‘Our research found that ISS’ level of organization and the intensity of the armed confrontations with al-Shabab meet the international humanitarian law criteria to classify the situation as a non-international armed conflict (NIAC)’ explains Dr Chiara Redaelli, Research Fellow at the Geneva Academy.

Our Rule of Law in Armed Conflict (RULAC) online portal provides a detailed analysis and legal classification of this conflict, including information about parties and applicable international law.

This new NIAC complements the Somalia entry, which already entails regularly updated information about the NIAC between the Somali government and al-Shabaa, foreign interventions in this conflict and views of the parties.

Violence between ISS and the Somali Armed Forces: Not Reaching the NIAC Threshold

Over the years, clashes between the Somali government and ISS have been rare and were therefore not enough to reach the intensity of violence threshold required by IHL to classify the situation as a NIAC.

In particular, ISS’ ability to conduct activities have been impeded by Puntland Security Force operations, as well as by the ongoing conflict between ISS and Al-Shabaab.

Violence among Other Groups Affiliated with the Islamic State: Not Reaching the NIAC Treshold

While clashes are taking place among other groups affiliated with the Islamic State, our research concluded – in light of the low intensity of armed violence between them and the fact that they do not seem sufficiently organized – that the situation does not reach the IHL thresholds to classify these clashes as NIACs.

Foreign Interventions in the NIAC Opposing Somalia to Al-Shabab

The African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), Ethiopia and the United States are supporting the Somali government in its fight against al-Shababa and are, as such, also parties to the NIAC opposing the Somali armed forces to al-Shabab.

The Involvement of AMISOM

The military component of AMISOM – authorized by the United Nations Security Council to use force to ‘reduce the threat posed by Al-Shabaab and other armed opposition groups’ – has currently around 22,000 troops in the country. Its armed forces are deployed throughout central and south Somalia to fight against al-Shabaab.

‘While AMISOM military component includes forces from Uganda, Burundi, Djibouti, Ethiopia and Kenya, only AMISOM – and not the contributing countries – is involved in this NIAC’ underlines Dr Redaelli.

An African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) convoy drives down the main road leading to Aden Abdulle International Airport in the Somali capital Mogadishu

The Involvement of Ethiopia and the United States

Ethiopian and United States armed forces are also supporting Somalian and AMISOM armed forces in their fight against al-Shabab and are, therefore, also parties to this NIAC under the ‘support-based approach’ proposed by the International Committee of the Red Cross.

As of March 2019, the US is also a party to this NIAC not only on account of its support to Somali and AMISOM forces but also due to its direct use of force against al-Shabaab. Indeed, the airstrikes and ground raids it has been conducting reach the intensity of violence required by IHL to conclude for the existence of a NIAC.

Spilled over into Kenya

In addition to committing terrorist attacks in Kenya, al-Shabaab also conduct raids into Kenyan territory, targeting both civilians and the Kenyan security forces.

‘Taking into account the level of organization of al-Shabaab and the scale and scope of its attacks carried out in Kenya and the response of the Kenyan security forces to these attacks, we concluded that there was a separate trans-border non-international armed conflict between Kenya and al-Shabaab’ says Dr Redaelli.

‘Nevertheless, based on the information at our disposal, since Somalia cut ties with Kenya, Kenyan troops did not conduct military operations in Somalia against al Shabab’ she adds.

An alleged suspect of the Al-Qaeda-affiliated extremist group Al Shabaab are guarded at a former police station by soldiers of the Somali National Army (SNA)


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