Al-Shabab’s conventional military wing is known as the Jabahaat (‘fronts’ in Arabic; singular Jabha). Its first iteration was formed in 2005 when the group sent a group of 15 men into the Somali region of Ethiopia. At its height in 2010, the Jabahaat numbered more than 8000 men.

Every Jabha has mine specialists, Jugta Culus, medical units, communications, Da’wa, registrations, transportation, and media officers.[1] The Jabahaat has six main Jaysh and two special ones: the regular ones are Jubbas; Gedo; Bay and Bakol; Lower Shabelle and Banadir; Middle Shabelle, Hiran and Galgaduud; and Mudug. The special ones are the Galgala Jaysh and the Kenya Jaysh. The regular ones have 700-1000 men, and the special ones have 300 men each. On top of this, the reinforcements department has another 500 men. The total number of the Jabahaat fighters is therefore at least 5000 men. Their decline is both a reflection of the pressures the group has come against and also its reconfiguration away from a conventional posture to a guerrilla strategy from 2011.  

Ranks within the Jabahaat are as follows: Emir Majmu’a: head of 10 men; Emir Fasila: head of 32 men; Emir Sariya: head of 99-120 men; Emir Katiba: head of 300 men; and Emir Jaysh – head of a military region of 700-1000 men.

Recruitment

In its early years, AS relied on recruits from Mogadishu and other urban areas. As it has lost major population centres in the past seven years, most of its new recruits come from the rural areas, specifically the Bay and Bakol regions. This is because those regions are heavily populated, and the group still controls rural areas where most of the population live in the two regions.

Most new recruits are children who have gone through the AS education system, which greatly increases their loyalty to the group. This AS investment in the future will greatly increase the chances of its struggle to continue for at least another generation. Nevertheless, recruitment was negatively affected by the aerial bombing of an AS training camp in Hiran in 2015; this means that renewed bombing of training camps this year will further hurt recruitment.

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[1] Interview with AS Commander in charge of war booty, January 2018.

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