Rebuilt Somali National Army Gains Ground Against Al-Shabaab
On December 22, units from the Somali National Army joined local clan militias to liberate Ruun-Nirgood, a strategically important community in the Middle Shabelle region.
A military spokesman said the operation eliminated al-Shabaab’s last stronghold in the region and solidified the government’s control over Middle Shabelle, just north of the capital, Mogadishu.
The assault was the latest in a string of successful campaigns against al-Shabaab by a rapidly improving Somali military. A sustained rebuilding effort aided by the African Union has produced a Somali military that can stand on its own and push back against al-Shabaab, according to Lt. Gen. Diomede Ndegeya, the former force commander of ATMIS, the Africa Union Transitional Mission in Somalia.
Ndegeya stepped down in October. In his farewell message, he said the Somali military’s ability to defeat al-Shabaab and hold the ground it captures shows how much it has grown as a fighting force.
“We wouldn’t be able to achieve much in Somalia without our partners. I thank them for their support and appeal to them to do more and not get fatigued,” Ndegeya said.
Somali troops have reported a series of successes against terrorist groups since August in offensives planned and executed entirely by Somali commanders with the support of local militias.
“We inflicted heavy defeat on terrorists,” Somali National Army Commander Brig. Gen. Odawaa Yusuf Rageh told Voice of America Somali.
In October, the military reclaimed the village of Masjid Ali Gadud, which had been in al-Shabaab hands for 15 years. Along with the recent success in Middle Shabelle, the military also scored victories in Hiraan, the southernmost province bordering Kenya, and Lower Shabelle and has planned new operations in Jubaland. In the process, hundreds of al-Shabaab terrorists have been eliminated.
“The government continues to try to build confidence among the public for them to stand up against the group,” Samira Gaid of the Hiraal Institute, a Somalia-based security think tank, told Agence France-Presse.
Training centers in Mogadishu are attracting new recruits, many of them university graduates.
Rageh credited Turkey and the United States with training the forces that have been at the heart of recent successes against al-Shabaab.
Despite its defeats, al-Shabaab remains capable of launching attacks against military and civilians. The group staged a suicide attack against Mogadishu’s Villa Rose hotel near the presidential palace in November, twin car bombings near the Ministry of Education in October, and an attack on the Hayat Hotel in August.
In 2022, al-Shabaab attacks killed 613 civilians and injured nearly 950 more, according to the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
In November, the African Union Peace and Security Council voted to delay a planned ATMIS drawdown until June 30, 2023, as part of a plan to boost the Somali military’s ongoing campaign against al-Shabaab. The U.N. Security Council quickly endorsed that decision.
Around the same time, ATMIS and Somali Army leaders met to discuss strategies to combat al-Shabaab’s use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
ATMIS Chief Force Engineer Col. Davidson Nwogu suggested the use of IEDs was a sign of al-Shabaab’s desperation after repeated defeats by Somali forces and their allies.
The day before Somalia’s victory in Ruun-Nirgood, the government announced the arrival of the first wave of 5,000 new troops trained in Eritrea. More troops are expected to return in January.
Defense Minister Abdulkadir Mohamed Noor said in a statement that the freshly trained forces will introduce new blood into the fight against al-Shabaab.
“The government will continue … the development, enhancing quality and trainings of the Somali army, which continues to play a pivotal role in the fight against [violent extremism],” Noor said, according to the news website Somali Guardian.