Is Somalia's Al-Shabab On The Back Foot?

Somalia's militant al-Shabab insurgent group stares a possible military collapse in the face as a coalition of African forces, fighting on multiple fronts, steadily advances on its southern heartland and the United States steps up drone and naval attacks.

Is Somalia's al-Shabab on the back foot?

Somalia's militant al-Shabab insurgent group stares a possible military collapse in the face as a coalition of African forces, fighting on multiple fronts, steadily advances on its southern heartland and the United States steps up drone and naval attacks.

Its military fortunes have dramatically worsened in the last year.

It began when an alliance of clans supported by Ethiopia pushed it out of most of the central regions of Hiran and Galgudud.

This was followed by the loss of the capital, Mogadishu, in August 2011 - no doubt a big psychological and political blow.

Outgunned by the African Union force (Amisom), its ability to wage a conventional war seriously diminished and having suffered huge losses, al-Shabab's badly mauled combat units pulled out of the battered capital they have struggled to control since early 2007.

In the southern regions of Gedo and Juba, Kenyan combat troops and allied local militias, backed by heavy armour and fighter jets, have been putting pressure on al-Shabab in the last three months, making significant territorial gains.

Ethiopian troops made an incursion into Somalia in the New Year, the biggest since the December 2006 invasion.Al-Shabab has withdrawn from Mogadishu, which has been at the centre of the conflict since 1991

They quickly overran the strategic south-central town of Beledweyen and rapidly advanced southwards towards the valley of the River Shabelle.

That an ambitious and increasingly concerted military campaign is now under way in southern Somalia seems obvious.

A formidable array of forces has been mobilised, though it is not yet clear the extent to which the war is being co-ordinated and who, if anyone, is taking the lead.

Even if al-Shabab is not decisively defeated, the group is unlikely to withstand the combined firepower of these armies.