Al Shabaab, which once ruled much of a country roughly the same size as France, was undone by famine, unprecedented African military cooperation, and their own medieval rule.
On Wednesday, the African Union Mission in Somalia, a multi-national military force, first deployed in 2007 to support the country's besieged Transitional Federal Government, warned civilians in Kismayo that the mission's final assault on their city was imminent. Kismayo is the last major town controlled by the Islamist militant movement al Shabaab, the al Qaeda-affiliated group that ruled much of Somalia until April of this year. Although Kismayo has been the site of U.S. drone attacks, its port still does a brisk business in sugar cane imports and charcoal exports. Tres Thomas, a Somalia analyst and PhD candidate at George Mason University, estimates that the port makes al Shabaab "tens of millions of dollars" a year and is the group's "most lucrative source of internal revenue." So Kismayo's possible fall is a big deal for the future of a particularly destabilizing terrorist insurgency. But how big?
The port city is more than a financial engine for al Shabaab, which has recruited and trained terrorists from around the world, and which national security analyst Daveed Gartenstein-Ross once characterized as "a significant security concern to several countries, including the United States." The city is also the last bastion of an organization that once threatened to create an Afghanistan-like safe haven for piracy and terrorism, an Islamist militia with the ability to destabilize both its neighbors and globally significant shipping lanes in the Gulf of Aden. As recently as early 2012, al Shabaab controlled most of the capital city of Mogadishu. Now, al Shabaab may be nearing the end of its rule over Somalia. Reuters cited "Western diplomats" predicting that the group will continue its terror attacks and bombings within Somalia. But, for Somalia, this could be the end of a very dark era.