Africa Defense Forum
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Somalia Recaptures ‘All Important’ Town from al-Shabaab


The Somali National Army and local forces in late December recaptured Masagaway, a town in central Galmudug State, from al-Shabaab, marking a significant victory in the ongoing war.

Masagaway is about 270 kilometers northeast of Mogadishu and is home to a military base. It has been the site of major battles between government forces and local militias, and had been under al-Shabaab control for four months.

“The al-Shabaab terrorists have been removed from Masagaway town and operations to pursue them are going on from several fronts in eastern parts of the Galguduud region at the moment,” Abdirahman Yusuf Al-Adala, Somalia’s deputy minister of Information, Culture and Tourism, said in a report published by The EastAfrican newspaper.

The victory was termed “all important” by Somali state media.

As al-Shabaab fighters fled Masagaway, Somali government and local forces killed dozens of them in an operation near Caad in the north-central Mudug region.

“The forces are advancing toward Caad, pursuing the fleeing remnants” of al-Shabaab, state media reported.

These victories came a couple of weeks after Somali forces killed 33 al-Shabaab fighters and injured several others in a special operation near Harardhere, a key port town on the Indian Ocean.

Al-Adala said that the forces targeted a primary base of the militant group, destroyed its command center and seized a cache of weapons.

“We thank the role of the local forces and SNA (Somali National Army) in neutralizing the terrorists in the area,” Al-Adala said.

The latest operation came days after government forces backed by international partners killed 60 al-Shabaab fighters near the town of Halgan in Galmudug State.

In another significant December development, Somali troops assumed control over the security of Villa Somalia, the presidential palace.

African Union Transition Mission in Somalia (ATMIS) troops previously guarded the palace. ATMIS, which includes troops from Burundi, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda, completed the first phase of its drawdown of 2,000 troops on June 30, 2023, and was due to withdraw more September 30, 2023, reducing its military personnel to 14,626.

However, Somalia asked the United Nations in September to delay the drawdown’s second phase due to ongoing terror attacks in the country’s south-central regions. All ATMIS forces are scheduled to exit Somalia by December 2024. Taking over control of the presidential palace is seen by some as a sign of growing self-reliance and fortitude among Somali forces.

The recent gains made by Somalia came after the military in September switched tactics against al-Shabaab amid increasing attacks by the militants.

The switch gave clan militias, locally known as “Ma’awisley,” the lead role in the fight against the insurgents with government forces playing a supportive role.

Officials told Voice of America (VOA) that the government will register the local fighters and pay them monthly stipends, with a view to integrating them into the national Army in the future. It is a return to the strategy that helped Somalia seize vast areas from al-Shabaab between August 2022 and January 2023.

“The plan is to remobilize the armed forces, rest some of those soldiers who have been in the front line for a year and a half, replace them with the newly trained forces, and remobilize the Ma’awisley [local militias] and to let the local community lead the fight,” Brig. Gen. Abdirahman Turyare, who helped mobilize the local fighters, told VOA.

The government provides clan militias with logistical support, ammunition, food and medical evacuations. The clans connect the army to the local populations and demonstrate that civilians have turned against al-Shabaab, according to the International Crisis Group.

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