Ramadan is the month in which Al-Shabab traditionally aims to increase the tempo of its operations. The group has usually managed to do so, even when it has faced internal problems, as a way to raise morale. However, Ramadan 2018 saw the number of spectacular attacks dip, most likely due to disruption operations by Special Forces directed against AS networks targeting Mogadishu. The group was forced to change tactics in the face of these operations in order to achieve an increased number of attacks during Ramadan.
In Ramadan 2017, there were a total of seven Al Shabaab IED incidents and four SVBIEDs, two of which were accompanied by infantry attacks. Three of the SVBIEDs targeted Mogadishu, causing at least 50 dead and scores of wounded.
Ramadan 2018 saw the same number of IED attacks as 2017, more hand grenade attacks (three compared to zero in 2017), but only two SVBIED attacks. Total deaths from all these attacks were less than twenty, a major reduction from 2017.
While the deaths from bomb attacks were less, Al-Shabab managed to increase the body count in Ramadan 2018 by changing its main tool of attack to targeted killings. It killed seventeen people by direct assassinations. The death toll was further increased by ISIS, which killed two people during Ramadan. Together, pistol-wielding attackers from both groups managed to assassinate more people than died in bomb attacks. Assassinations increased to almost three times the number in Ramadan 2017.
Direct military attacks
Al Shabaab was more active than the Somali government, being responsible for six raids against allied positions in 2017 while the government launched one counterattack and two SF attacks, while its allies conducted one drone strike. Two of the AS raids, in Af Urur and Kulbiyow, killed more than 60 Puntland and Kenyan troops. The group further accelerated its activity in 2018, launching four more attacks than it did in 2017; however, the death toll was much smaller. Al-Shabab also suffered a major setback when its troops coming from a successful raid against Puntland forces were subjected to a drone strike, killing 27 of them.
Ramadan 2018 was the first in more than three years without a major Al Shabaab incident anywhere in Somalia. This is clearly due to the fact that SF and drone strikes have put the group in a more defensive posture. The fact that it managed to maintain the same number of IED attacks as in 2017 is an indication of the relative ease with which it can produce less sophisticated explosive devices, even while under intense pressure.
While the FGS has adopted passive security measures in the form of increased lockdowns and multiple-layered security cordons around the capital, Hiraal cannot find any clear evidence that these measures deterred or stopped any attack.
The group has further changed its focus more to directly targeting individuals who have little or no protection: businessmen, elders who voted in the indirect elections of 2016, and individual security officials.
Below is the interactive map comparing Ramadan 2017 and 2018: