Monday, 16 June 2014

Allied troops advance in Bakol, clear al-Shabaab blockades

By Hamdi Salad in Mogadishu

June 13, 2014
In the past three weeks, Somali National Army and African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) troops have forced al-Shabaab out of several bases in Bakol region, opening many previously blockaded roads and allowing once again the free movement of much needed food and supplies.
  • Ethiopian soldiers belonging to the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) assist in the movement of food and supplies in the Bay region of Somalia. [AMISOM Photo / Sabirr Olad]
    Ethiopian soldiers belonging to the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) assist in the movement of food and supplies in the Bay region of Somalia. [AMISOM Photo / Sabirr Olad]
Operations in the region started May 27th in the town of Ato, after al-Shabaab attempted to attack bases housing Somali government soldiers, Ato District Commissioner Dubbad Hassan Ali told Sabahi.
"We killed more than 200 militants, captured 60 fighters and confiscated 40 military vehicles," Ali said, adding that 12 Somali soldiers were killed and others injured in the clashes, which lasted more than a week.
As for the arrested fighters, Ali said they are in custody but have not been charged in court. He declined to give any other details about where they are being held or what the local administration plans to do with them.
After the Somali forces defeated al-Shabaab in Ato, they are now setting their sights on liberating surrounding districts, including Garas Weyne, Lagalaay and Rabdhure, as well as Dib-ugal, Sarir and Maykohad villages, where al-Shabaab had established bases from which it prevented food and essential goods from reaching citizens living in government controlled territories.

Removal of roadblocks offer hope to residents

When residents throughout Bakol heard about the success of the Somali military offensive, they expressed optimism about opening the roads into Rabdhure that connect to the Ethiopian border.
"We became very happy about the steps government troops took against al-Shabaab and the opening of the road that connects Hudur to Rabdhure," said Mohamed Hassan Abdirahman, a 26-year-old resident of Hudur.
Abdirahman said he hoped that opening the 90-kilometre road would make it possible for trucks carrying foodstuff and other commercial goods from Ethiopia to reach the districts under al-Shabaab's blockade.
The transport of goods to Hudur has been negatively affected by al-Shabaab blockades along roads connecting to Baidoa and Mogadishu, he said, but the opening of the Hudur-Rabdhure route will help offset shortages of goods from Mogadishu.
Despite the success of the recent military offensive in Bakol, Abdirahman said the lives of residents in the region are still at risk. "The combination of war and drought has affected the people and led to their lives being in danger," he said, adding that they are in desperate need of emergency aid.
For his part, Bakol traditional elder Sheikh Osman Ahmed said they were still waiting for the government to liberate the long road that connects Wajid and Baidoa, and accesses Hudur and Rabdhure, so emergency aid can reach people in those areas.
Ahmed said the people in Wajid were in danger of starvation if aid was not urgently received. Already a woman and two children have died of hunger in Wajid, he said, and there have been reports of people dying from hunger in Hudur as well.
"The government is the one that governs and it needs to save the people," he said.

Lack of organisation, planning hinders operations

The operations under way in Bakol region are facing organisational challenges that could negatively impact the victories achieved thus far, said Colonel Abdullahi Adam Irro, a former member of the Somali police and military forces under the Mohamed Siad Barre regime.
"When the government was launching the war against al-Shabaab [in March], it made a mistake because it spread across a territory it could not hold," he told Sabahi.
"Now the government is in a situation it cannot manage because al-Shabaab blocks off every area the troops liberate," he said. "The government needed to plan how it would stabilise [the region] before it launched the offensive, [rather than taking] random steps."
Before expanding the offensive any further, Irro said, the government should recruit and train additional troops for six months to strengthen its ability to hold territory and devise new strategies to defeat al-Shabaab's hit-and-run tactics.
During that time, the government and allied forces should also have a plan in place to deliver aid. "At least every two months, AMISOM should lead a convoy carrying food supplies to the areas under the blockade," he said.
Ibrahim Muse Herow, head of the Association of Bay and Bakol Scholars, a group of experts from various fields that works on issues related to reconciliation and governance, said the government should create a specialised force that knows the local landscape and can pursue al-Shabaab fighters when they retreat to remote areas after their hit-and-run attacks.
"Special forces should [also] infiltrate the clans to gain intelligence so they can arrest [members of al-Shabaab] and attack the areas where they hide," he said.
Herow, who is also a social science professor at the University of Southern Somalia in Baidoa, said it was necessary to open dialogue with moderates within al-Shabaab to convince them to defect from the group.
"If a deal is reached with moderate members of al-Shabaab from Bay and Bakol, it can lead to the defeat of the extremists," he said.

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