07.12.2022: Mogadishu, Somalia
The Somali National Army (SNA) alongside local clan militia known as ‘Macawisley’ have captured the Al-Shabaab stronghold “without a fight” announces President Hassan Sheikh Mahmoud in a televised speech to the nation on Tuesday.
For the past few days, fierce fighting had been reported near Wartadibi Samatar and Boos Adur villages in Middle Shabelle’s Aadan Yabal district.
This comes at a time where the Somali Federal Government alongside local resistance mounted an offensive to dislodge Al-Shabab militants in Hiiraan and Middle Shabelle. It was in July when coalition forces begun offensives in the Galgadud region before opening another front in the Middle Shabelle region about a month later.
A Major Blow to Al-Shabab
Aadan Yabaal has been under Al-Shabaab control since 2016. The town had been an administrative hub in the region for the group in which they would summon Somali civilians to Kangaroo Courts under duress, threatening violence.
Additionally, many Al-Shabab leaders in the region were also stationed here, with the Somali Government exposing the “Villa Aadan Yabal” compound that was intended to mimic government headquarters in Mogadishu such as ‘Villa Somalia’ or ‘Villa Hargaysa’.
Speaking to the nation via Somali National TV (SNTV), the President confirmed that Al-Shabaab forced locals to vacate the town with them as a means of protection against coalition forces and airstrikes – essentially using Somali citizens as human shields. Indeed, dozens of militants have been killed in Turkish & US drone strikes in recent months across Hirshabelle State to support coalition forces.
President Mohamud added that the militants blew up the water wells as they were leaving the district before pledging to repair them. This despicable and cowardice act is not first of its kind. Militants also blew up water wells in Yasooman and Teedaan, Hiiraan among other places which ultimately kick-started the revolt against the militants in the region.
Currently, only Ruun Nirgood remains as the only village held by Al-Shabaab in the Middle Shabelle region.
Defeat or Strategic Withdrawal?
This is not the first time that Aadan Yabal fell to coalition forces. It was in 2016 when AMISOM alongside SNA units captured the town only for it to fall to Al-Shabaab months later.
The difference this time is that the liberation of Somalia is led by a stronger, more experienced and well-trained SNA units such as Gorgor & Danab as well as seasoned regular units backed by a local resistance. For many Somalis, the liberation by AMISOM units was simply seen as an occupational force replacing a brutal extremist one. The motivation by locals for change has been the backbone for defeating Al-Shabaab.
The current war against Al-Shabaab demonstrates that the solution to Somalia’s problems must be led by Somalis.
However, many have questioned the ease at which the militants withdrew from the town. Based on my analysis, there are two possible reasons:
- Al-Shabaab saw imminent defeat & withdrew to regroup and counter SNA forces while they least expect it.
- Al-Shabab did not see a strategic significance at this time and would rather use fighters elsewhere on the frontlines.
Irrespective, the key to success in this war is consolidation, ensuring Somali soldiers are entrenched in strategic outposts and that government support reaches locals as quickly as possible.
The Somali Government must consolidate its control of Hiiraan and Middle Shabelle before it continues on elsewhere. The possibility of an Al-Shabaab counterattack in Aadan Yabal is high. The utilisation of allied drone strikes and airpower would be essential to deter militants from attacking the town.
Elsewhere, President Hassan Sheikh confirmed that other regional governments, such as Jubaland and South West State (SWS), were on course to open up other fronts against al-Shabaab.
SWS State President, Abdulaziz Laftagareen met with regional SNA commanders yesterday as preparations for a new front against the militants is set to kick off. Similarly, Jubaland Strongman Ahmed Madobe met with Defence Minister Nur and SNA Chief Gen. Odawaa in Kismayo, visiting units that were in the final preparations to open another front against militants in the Jubba regions.
Al-Shabaab’s de facto capital is Jilib in the Middle Jubba region, the only region that the militants control in its entirety which falls under Jubaland. In fact, the Jubaland capital, Bu’aale is still under Al-Shabaab control.
The Government must work in conjunction with State leaders in SWS and Jubaland to secure a pincer movement against Al-Shabaab, possibly encircling them in Middle Jubba before conducting an all out attack.
The Somali Army has 5,000 highly trained soldiers stationed in Eritrea idly. We must return these units to support the final push against Al-Shabab.
Where is Puntland?
Many have criticised Puntland State leader, Said Deni for his limited to non-existent role in this war as the current frontline in Galmudug literally borders Puntland’s Mudug region.
The reality is that Puntland security apparatus does not come under the control of President Hassan Sheikh and they do not take any orders from President, despite the President being the Commander in Chief of the Somali Army.
Puntland must enter this battle in Hirshabelle and Galmudug to finally put an end to the Al-Shabaab insurgency in that region.