May 29, 2012
Al-Shabaab's loss of Afgoye, a key stronghold of strategic importance, will be a severe setback for the al-Qaeda-affiliated group, analysts say.
Somali government and AMISOM forces took control of Afgoye on Friday (May 25th) after a three-day military campaign.
"Al-Shabaab has suffered a huge defeat and the decisive victory achieved by government and AMISOM forces in Afgoye is a severe blow to the group; one from which it will not recover," retired Colonel Osman Aden, a political analyst, told Sabahi.
Aden said taking over Afgoye, 30 kilometres from Mogadishu, will make it easier for allied forces to secure the main road between Afgoye and Baidoa. "It also facilitates the provision of humanitarian aid to residents along the strategic road between the capital and Afgoye," he said.
Noor Yusif, a political analyst and expert on Islamist movements in Somalia, said, "The Somali National Army's success in tearing Afgoye from the grip of al-Shabaab, with support from AMISOM, is a significant military breakthrough, taking over the last rebel military stronghold near Mogadishu."
Yusif said al-Shabaab has been weakened since last year's deployment of Kenyan and Ethiopian forces in the country. "Military operations by regional, allied forces have weakened al-Shabaab's military capability," he told Sabahi. "Liberating Afgoye without significant resistance is a sign that al-Shabaab is on the decline and no longer has the capability to confront the military campaign against it."
Afgoye had been a main al-Shabaab stronghold for three years, and a major success for AMISOM forces since deployment in Somalia in 2007.
"The town of Afgoye was a fortified stronghold for Islamist rebels because it lies at a strategic crossroads, linking the capital, Mogadishu, with western and southern parts of the country," said political analyst Ahmed Omar. "It was also the second-most important al-Shabaab stronghold after the city of Kismayo."
"This accomplishment achieved by the national and AMISOM forces in Afgoye is a smashing military success in the fight against al-Shabaab. It represents the beginning of the end of the al-Shabaab movement," he told Sabahi.
"By taking control of Afgoye, the AU and Somali government forces are able to take full control of the main road connecting the capital with the western and southern regions of the country." He said the victory will cut military and logistical supplies from al-Shabaab fighters in the central and southern regions.
"Seizing Afgoye from the rebels' grip constitutes another defeat to al-Shabaab, which has been subjected to military pressure from a campaign by the allied regional forces in the central and southern parts of the country," he said.
Analysts say "Operation Free Shabelle" which led to the fall of Afgoye aims to help boost the security of Mogadishu, which is making preparations to soon host the country's first National Constituent Assembly.
"This campaign is contributing towards securing the capital, Mogadishu, which is preparing to host the constitutional conference of the National Constituent Assembly that will ratify the new constitution and prepare for the selection of Members of Parliament as well as the presidential elections that will take place on August 20th of this year," political analyst Abdul Fattah Osman told Sabahi.
"Taking control of Afgoye will tighten the noose around al-Shabaab and will deprive extremists of the opportunity to launch their attacks against Mogadishu from the town of Afgoye. This step will also allow national forces to defeat al-Shabaab and its al-Qaeda allies in Somalia," he added.
Al-Shabaab's withdrawal from Afgoye without fierce resistance follows a pattern of retreat, including a pull-out from positions in Mogadishu last August, and their abandonment of the key city of Baidoa to Ethiopian and Somali troops in February.
General Abdi Kareem Yusif Dhagabadan, chief of staff of the Somali armed forces and commander of operations against al-Shabaab, pledged to continue military operations.
"We are in complete control of Afgoye and will continue to hunt down rebels until we crush all the terrorists that have become fugitives," he told Sabahi. "These military operations will not stop until they are wiped out."
"Militants have a last chance to surrender," Dhagabadan said, calling on al-Shabaab fighters to turn themselves in to government forces.
AMISOM Lieutenant General Andrew Guti told Sabahi that al-Shabaab is on the run. "Rebels are losing the battle and losing hope," he told Sabahi. "They are on the run and the joint forces are making remarkable progress".
"This operation was meticulously planned and all necessary precautions were made to avoid civilian casualties," he said. By securing the Afgoye Corridor, humanitarian aid can now be delivered to 400,000 people living in the region, as al-Shabaab had banned relief agencies from helping affected and vulnerable groups.
Al-Shabaab said it deliberately retreated from Afgoye after AU forces entered the city with tanks.
"The jihadists executed a tactical withdrawal from some areas, but that does not mean defeat," said Abdiaziz Abu Musab, spokesperson for al-Shabaab's military operations. "We will continue fighting and will, without question, achieve victory. AMISOM's tanks will not intimidate us."
Security officials told Sabahi that al-Shabaab's statements are nothing more than an attempt to raise morale among its retreating fighters.
"After losing the city of Afgoye, al-Shabaab is trying to raise morale among its fighters who have fled areas seized by the joint forces, and have headed towards rural southern cities," said Mohammed Abdi Qadir, an officer in the Somali National Army.
Long lines of trucks and buses transporting refugees have been making their way toward Mogadishu. On Thursday and Friday, the region witnessed a large exodus from Eilasha and the Afgoye Corridor, seeking safety.
The operation to free Shabelle has forced hundreds of families to leave the temporary homes even though AMISOM and the Somali government have called for them to stay in their homes.
The Afgoye Corridor has been a temporary shelter for about 400,000 displaced persons who left their homes in Mogadishu and other areas over the past few years to escape fighting and drought.
Fartuun Ahmed told Sabahi she fled with her eight children from Eilasha. "We cannot stay there anymore because shells are falling and the sound of gunfire roars all around us," she said. "People are scared."
Deputy Director Dr. Mohammed Noor Jaal of the Office of the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs for the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation (OIC) in Somalia called on warring parties to protect displaced populations in the Afgoye Corridor.
"We call on everyone to take necessary precautions to prevent injury or casualties among civilians and displaced persons," he told Sabahi.
He said humanitarian agencies and OIC partners are working to deliver humanitarian aid to displaced persons who have fled.
The United Nations also called on all parties to allow full humanitarian access to people in need in the Afgoye Corridor.
"While remaining strictly neutral and independent of political and military processes, humanitarian actors are co-ordinating preparations to ensure immediate assistance is available to civilians most affected by military activities in the corridor," UN Coordinator for Humanitarian Affairs in Somalia Mark Bowden said in a statement on Tuesday.
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