Michael Onyiego | Nairobi, Kenya
One of the leaders of the al-Qaida-linked Somali insurgent group al-Shabab has acknowledged the group is losing ground in its fight against the Somali government.
As forces of Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government continue to make advances throughout the country – often with the help of African Union troops – the country’s main insurgent group, al-Shabab, appears to be weakening.
Speaking on a radio station that is friendly to the Islamist insurgents, Shabab commander Ahmed Abdi Godane admitted the group had experienced significant losses, including the deaths of several senior officials and commanders, in recent fighting.
The TFG has made significant advances in its effort to oust al-Shabab since the insurgents’ “Ramadan offensive” launched in September of last year. Government and AU troops managed to repel the insurgent onslaught and reclaim parts of the war-torn capital, Mogadishu.
Since January of this year, the government also has begun to chip away at insurgent strongholds in the Gedo region along the borders of Ethiopia and Kenya. Recently, TFG forces launched an offensive to take Mogadishu’s Bakara market, seen as the main insurgent stronghold in the city.
Government troops have closed in on the market – an important part of Somalia’s economy – though analysts expect a difficult fight to extract the insurgents from the labyrinth of stalls and shops that are heavily occupied by civilians.
The rebel commander also expressed concern over spies he believed had infiltrated al-Shabab, weakening it from within by sowing discord among the movement’s leaders. Godane said the group was working out ways to eliminate the spies from Shabab’s ranks.
The past month has seen other victories against the Islamist group, including the killing of Fazul Mohammed, who many pegged as al-Qaida’s chief in East Africa and the mastermind of the 1998 United States embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania.
The Somali government has strong backing in its fight against al Shabab. In Mogadishu, TFG troops are supported by an 8,000-strong African Union peacekeeping force known as AMISOM. The force has led most of the fighting in past years, but recently has allowed government troops to shoulder more of the burden.
AU, US support
The TFG also is receiving the support of the U.S. military, which recently launched drone attacks from its Special Operations Command Unit in Yemen. The strikes targeted and killed at least one Shabab operative in Kismayo on Somalia’s southern coast.
The recent successes have raised hope the government can re-establish security and stability in Somalia, which has not had a stable central government in 20 years.