In the annals of modern history, few conflicts have been as prolonged and challenging as Somalia’s battle against al-Shabaab. For over a decade and half, this al-Qaeda-affiliated group has bedeviled the nation, claiming both territory and lives. Now, on the precipice of a historic event, Somalia stands poised to secure a remarkable victory – the completion of the first phase of the operation against al-Shabaab in the Galmudug region. The journey here has been marked by dedication, resilience, and a shift in strategy that has altered the dynamics of this struggle.
The changing of the guard: a President’s pledge
For more than fourteen years, Somalia has grappled with the pernicious threat of al-Shabaab, an extremist faction aligned with al-Qaeda, operating ominously across East Africa. While the group once commanded large swathes of territory, their grip has gradually loosened over time. A decade ago, their dominance extended over the heart of Somalia, including the capital, Mogadishu. Today, their control is limited to Middle Jubba, rural pockets in southern Somalia, and just two districts in Central Somalia. This is testament to the nation’s tenacity given its economic woes and struggles with state-building efforts; however, it was time for a new chapter in this struggle.
Enter President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud who took office in May 2022 with a firm resolve to eradicate the scourge of al-Shabaab from Somali soil. A significant departure from his predecessor’s term, where no major territorial gains were achieved, President Hassan’s administration embarked on a mission to deliver the decisive blow against the militants. The catalyst for this resolute stance was al-Shabaab’s brutal treatment of clans within the country’s central regions.
At the onset, the conflict caught the government off-guard, however, in no time, government forces were rallying alongside local fighters who had hitherto borne the brunt of al-Shabaab’s brutality. Despite being a newly elected administration with limited resources in terms of military budget, the government managed to synergize efforts, rallying local fighters and providing strategic coordination that proved instrumental in swiftly defeating al-Shabaab in Galmudug and Hirshabelle states. While the group retreated to their jungle hideouts in Galgaduud, they remained far from vanquished.
The militants, though routed on many fronts, regrouped in the dense jungle of Galgaduud. From this stronghold, they orchestrated incessant attacks that dealt significant material and human losses to government forces. In this attritional phase, the nation mourned the loss of battle-hardened commanders, including the highly respected Major Hassan Tuurre of the U.S-trained Danab Brigade. The government’s initial unpreparedness and lack of resources were countered by the resilience and unity among its forces.
Having reclaimed substantial territories in Galmudug and Hirshabelle, the government momentarily suspended its offensive. This intermission facilitated the replenishment of military hardware, the training of thousands of new soldiers, and the acquisition of helicopters and other advanced weaponry. This strategic pause, while interruptive, is but a prelude to the final crescendo.
The apex of preparedness: awaiting the triumph
Emerging from this interval, Somalia’s forces are now poised to resume the operation with newfound vigor. The target remains clear: the remaining al-Shabaab strongholds in Galmudug – the districts of Eelbuur and Galhareeri. In recent weeks, a surge of troops has converged on the frontlines, and airstrikes have pummeled al-Shabaab’s bases and facilities in Galhareeri. The government’s response mirrors the guerrilla tactics employed by the militants themselves, emphasizing mobility over static bases, adaptability over predictability.
Learning from al-Shabaab’s playbook, the government’s forces have embraced a novel strategy – staying on the move, eschewing fixed bases, and engaging the militants in their remote jungle hideouts. This maneuver keeps the government forces from being targeted at established bases, turning the tables on the militants. This tactical shift promises to erode al-Shabaab’s hold on the rural areas while minimizing the government’s vulnerabilities.
As the completion of the first phase of this operation unfolds, Somalia stands on the cusp of a historic triumph. The capture of Eelbuur and Galhareeri would signify a pivotal moment in the nation’s history, declaring to the world that al-Shabaab’s reign of terror within central Somalia is over. This long and arduous journey, marked by sacrifices and steadfast determination, points to a brighter future for Somalia – one where unity, resilience, and strategic ingenuity have eradicated the shadows of extremism.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of this publication.