Lower Juba jungle becomes safe haven for al-Shabaab

By Adnan Hussein in Mogadishu

September 11, 2012

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Al-Shabaab has retreated to the jungles of Lower Juba to protect its leaders and fighters from aerial and ground attacks, according to local pastoralists and military analysts.

  • A Kenyan Defence Forces soldier stands guard in southern Somalia. Al-Shabaab has taken over swathes of jungle in the area, littering it with landmines to prevent Somali and Kenyan forces from encroaching. [Carl de Souza/AFP]

    A Kenyan Defence Forces soldier stands guard in southern Somalia. Al-Shabaab has taken over swathes of jungle in the area, littering it with landmines to prevent Somali and Kenyan forces from encroaching. [Carl de Souza/AFP]

As Somali and African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM) troops advance on the coastal city of Kismayo, one of al-Shabaab's last remaining strongholds, the militant group has turned large swathes of jungle into minefields and is using the dense growth to hide from aerial attacks.

The difficult jungle terrain in Lower Juba has been dubbed the "Black Sea" for its thick, shady trees that cause the jungle floor to appear dark even during the day, making navigation difficult except for trained hunters.

Retired Somali army Lieutenant Faisal Abdinur Berey, who serves as a military adviser to the Somali armed forces, said al-Shabaab has planted thousands of landmines on the perimeter of the jungle to thwart the advancement of Somali and AMISOM troops and tanks. The militant group, he says, has also deployed its forces in villages around the Kudha and Tojora islands, as well as in the outskirts of Bulo Haji, Kulbiyow and Badhadhe, in order to secure the jungle.

Retired Somali army Colonel Ali Farah Hirabe, who is based in Mogadishu and also serves as a military adviser to the Somali armed forces, said he thinks al-Shabaab fighters are hiding their arms in various locations in southern Somalia before they flee the area.

"The extremists are withdrawing from some of the cities and towns but I am puzzled as to the whereabouts of the large quantities of light and heavy weapons and explosives that have not yet been confiscated by government troops as they advance forward and achieve successive victories," he said.

"I think al-Shabaab is burying its weapons and ammunition underground in undisclosed locations in the south of the country, which the intelligence agencies can find with extensive effort," he said.

Government forces must find and seize these weapons in order to achieve long-term success against the militants, Hirabe said.

Liban Abdi Hussein, a 53-year old camel herder, said he and other pastoralists cannot walk through the jungle out of fear of being killed for spying.

"Every time we get closer to the pastures where our camels, cows and sheep graze, militants wearing masks and black scarves chase us away, brandishing their weapons and driving us out of their turf," he told Sabahi.

Al-Shabaab has turned the jungle into a safe haven for fighters so they can take cover from raids, Berey told Sabahi. Despite the militants' efforts, he said he anticipates that the fighting around the jungle will end poorly for al-Shabaab.

"It will take an unforeseeable amount of time to de-mine Lower Juba because of the proliferation of landmines along the main road between the town of Afmadow, which is controlled by the joint forces and Kismayo, which is the next destination for advancing allied forces," he said. "Many al-Shabaab members have maps of the landmines, which have killed many passers-by and camel herders."

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Reader's Comments

  • كتب
    September 12, 2012 @ 01:42:10PM

    It happened before that the al-Shabab Movement disappeared into the southern forests after their defeat by the Ethiopian forces in 2006. Now, they have started to gradually withdraw, just like what happened before in a similar case. But I hope the African and Somali forces will not give al-Shabab the opportunity to do so.

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