The Press Release Wars

With the world constantly searching for news regarding the situation in Somalia and the international Media still ravenously rummaging for stories regarding the current food crisis, it seems that both the African Union forces and the Islamists are conscientiously attempting to sway public opinion onto their sides respectively. I have been receiving written statements from AMISOM headquarters for quite some time but Al-Shabaab, who are somewhat elusive when it comes to international media, have begun dishing out some well-written press releases.

As the battles in Mogadishu continue to escalate, as predicted, during this Holy month of Ramadan, both Al-Shabaab and AMISOM forces have their own narrative of the events that have transpired over the last four days of fighting. Local Media here in Mogadishu has reported that several Ugandan soldiers and up to 3 unidentified ‘white’ foreigners were killed during yesterday’s suicide attack on an AU base in Wardhiigley by the Islamists. Independent observers and analysts in Mogadishu have also corroborated the findings of the media. But what did the warring parties have to say?

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AMISOM’s Offensive Backfires


Slain Amisom Soldiers

As the unrelenting famine sweeps across the country, AMISOM forces have launched a ‘concerted offensive’ against the Islamists controlling most of Southern Somalia. The operation was, according to the Press Release I’ve received from Paddy Ankunda, the AMISOM force spokesman, to increase security for IDP camps in TFG controlled areas:

“Following a period of sustained provocation from al Shabaab, our troops have dealt with specific security threats in a short tactical offensive operation. This action will further increase security in the TFG controlled areas of Mogadishu and ensure that aid agencies can continue to operate and get vital supplies to internally displaced persons.”

But after witnessing the events of yesterday as well as the battles that raged on until this noon, the threat has not been contained or dealt with and the security situation in the IDP camps, and Mogadishu in general, still remains rather volatile and precarious. It is safe to say that the Somali government soldiers who have been implicated in a series of shootings and severe cases of systematic rape in the IDP camps alone poses the greatest danger to the famine-stricken civilians, let alone the Islamist onslaught.

AMISOM, on their part, usually furnish the media, through press releases and well-orchestrated press conferences held inside the fortified base and only through invitations, with an immaculate portrayal of events here in Mogadishu. But war, as I’ve come to learn, is not always as it is portrayed in the media. War is grim. War is bloody. War is all but nice. In the ‘concerted offensive’ they’ve launched early Thursday morning, AMISOM forces have, according to Al-Shabab, lost 7 soldiers – from the Ugandan contingent and ‘stray’ mortars are said to have accidentally killed more than 30 TFG troops. This morning the Islamists paraded the slain soldiers as well as a cache of weapons in front of the ravenous eyes of the media.

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Al-Shabab: 1977-78 War Veterans Recalled

 

They marched towards the battlefields – at the peak of their prime – overflowing with patriotism and driven by irredentist beliefs and territorial expansion. With guns slung around their shoulders and ardently miming the mellifluous melodies of patriotic songs, the devoted Somali soldiers had one definitive goal in mind: the annexation of Ogadenia or Western Somalia in order to create a Greater Somalia. Today, however, after more than three decades of inaction, the veterans of the 1977-78 Somali-Ethiopian war are singing a different tune and are driven by different motives.

After having survived their sanguinary adventures, the veterans now vow to fight in the name of God to fend off the traditional foe. Burning with vengeance, this time kindled by Al-Shabab’s rapidly spreading ideological beliefs that have engulfed much of Southern and central Somalia, more than 30 of the 1977-78 war veterans from the border region of Gedo have unanimously agreed to join the ranks of Al-Shabab in a move that is considered to be a huge political gain for the Islamists.

Sheikh Mukhtar ‘Abu Mansoor’ Roobow, one of the senior leaders of Al-Shabab, along with the fervent preacher, Sheikh Fu’ad Mohamed Khalaf, are said to have had extensive meetings with the veteran soldiers in Garbahaarey, Gedo’s regional capital. Urging the soldiers to participate in the battles against the Ethiopian troops along the Somali borders, Abu Mansoor called out to the thousands of people that gathered at the scene to welcome the Islamists:

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Mogadishu’s Media War

When Mogadishu is often described as one of the world’s most dangerous places, it is not merely an understatement. No amount of coverage or depiction would do justice to the horrors that persistently lay siege to this city’s wear population. And the assault, this time, is not only on the ground.

More than one week into the intense battles that had crippled Mogadishu’s residents and the rivals’ radio stations could no longer contain their fury. Mogadishu’s battle is being fought on the airwaves. The target: The Minds of Mogadishans. With information and misinformation, scathing remarks, alarming threats and the rapid rattle of a machine-gun fire for jingles, the airwaves are waging a deadly psychological warfare in order to sculpt the minds of the residents, thereby transforming the battle’s prospects.

What I find rather staggering, however, is the how far each party is willing to go to in order update the local population about the Mogadishu battles according to their version of events. The government’s vociferous Radio Muqdisho (90 MHz) had dispatched some of its reporters to the front lines. Embedded with the AMISOM troops, the Radio Muqdisho reporters transmit their reports via a telephone. A few days into the battle and the station claimed to have built a new make-shift station ‘inside’ the Ministry of Defense compound where some AMISOM soldiers from the Burundian contingent were said to have been besieged by the Islamists.
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To Burundi: A Prisoner’s Message

Dear Readers,

This is a rough translation of the Burundian prisoner’s Message as broadcast on Mogadishu’s radio stations yesterday. It must be noted that I have translated the message using the ‘Somali’ translation that was broadcast on the radio stations, not from Burundian language. I will try to upload the original audio message (and a video if I get it) of the Burundian soldier so that readers can verify the translation.


My name is NZOBONANTUMYE THERENCE and I come from Burundi. My father’s name is ANDREA JEBARIKO and my mother’s name is VERONICA NDEREYIMANA. I am part of AMISOM’s SA ONZE battalion. I came to Somalia to fight Al-Shabab but ended up being their captive. I was captured on TUESDAY 22-02-2011

A colonel by name of URATUZA ordered us to go to Somalia in order to fight the Islamists. But when we came to Somalia and engaged AL-Shabab in battles, we realized that they were indeed dangerous and we could not defeat them. After our offensive against the Al-Shabab on Tuesday, the battle quickly intensified and many of our soldiers were killed and injured. In that disarray, the rest of the soldiers retreated and left me behind. And as soon as the soldiers deserted me, Al-Shabab soldiers captured me and then took me to one of their military compounds. That is where I am now

To The Burundian Soldiers in Mogadishu:

My advice to the Burundian soldiers is that you should refrain from waging war against Al-Shabab and the reason why I say this is because I am certain that you will never be able to defeat them. After we launched our offensive against Al-Shabab on Tuesday morning I would estimate that the number of Burundian soldiers killed in the battle to be about 50 in number. As for me I was captured alive by Al-Shabab and I am still alive and doing well. I warn you against waging war with Al-Shabab because you are fighting them in their own land and thus will never be able to defeat them.

I would also advice you to stop shelling the Somali population because whenever you shell populated areas, it is always the innocent civilians that become the victims of your shelling. As a result, when I fell into the hands of Al-Shabab, they transported me in a car and took me to a compound where many people were gathered and waiting for me. They wanted to kill me on the spot. They hurled all sorts of things at me but the Al-Shabab soldiers protected me from them. They were all angry with me and the reason for their anger is our constant shelling of innocent civilians.

To The Soldiers in Burundi:

I want to send this message to the soldiers in Burundi. My advice to you is that do not let your generals and seniors deceive you and lure you to fight in Somalia, because the rewards and the money that they promise you will eventually be of no value. Once you arrive in Somalia the only thing that awaits you here is death. As soon as we arrived in Somalia, we were sent into battles and I was captured in one of those battles along with many other soldiers. What we saw here in battles is gruesome, so I would advise you not to be deluded by your generals. The little provision that you receive in the safety of your homes is better that the fortune that would cost you your lives.

 

Mogadishu: The Burundian Nightmare

Burundian Peacekeeper Killed by Al-Shabab

 

As the battle rages on through its sixth day and the capital rocks with explosions and the rattle of gunfire, so does the journey of the corpses of Burundian peacekeeper’s in Somalia. In addition to the seven peacekeepers killed by the Islamists in Wednesday’s raid on the Ministry of Defense building, the corpses of yet another NINE peacekeepers were yesterday paraded around the capital city and neighbouring towns. Claiming to have killed a total of 16 Burundian peacekeepers (plus one taken as prisoner) in the course of the recent battles, Al-Shabab fighters have been receiving an unusual support from many of the displaced population here.

The nine corpses were yesterday driven to Ceelasha Biyaha, apparently after residents there requested to see the corpses of ‘the enemy that has displaced us from our homes.’ It is said that hundreds of angry people had gathered at the scene. Many of them accused the peacekeepers of deliberately targeting and shelling populated residential areas in the capital, thus forcing them to relocate to Ceelasha Biyaha or Afgooye. A woman, speaking to local radio stations, said:
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Brundian PoW

Brunundian Peacekeeper captured by Al-Shabab


These are some of the pictures of the Brundian soldier captured by Al-Shabab. The soldier is said to have sustained a minor injury on the legs and is now receiving treatment from Al-Shabab medics. His situation is thought to be stable and is being held in an undisclosed location. I have been informed that he has spoken recently, via a recorded message, to the media and I will attempt to transcribe his message and post it here shortly.

Soldier sips a drink
Speaking to the Media

It is the sixth day of intense battles in Mogadishu between the AU peacekeepers and the Al-Shabab Islamists. The latest reports are stating that dozens of Burundian peacekeepers are trapped inside the Ministry of Defense building for the second day. The Islamists have surrounded the building and blocked off all supply routes – so the soldiers are said to be without food or water for two consecutive days. There has been heavy shelling since last night in the capital. The Bakara market, the city’s largest business hub, has seen a reduced activity as the shelling continued and roads leading to the market have been blocked off because of the fighting. The battles are expected to escalate and the population here is bracing itself for more violent days to come.

 

 

Burundian Peacekeepers Killed in Mogadishu

 

Brundian Peacekeeper Killed by Al-Shabab

 

 

Our message to Uganda and Burundi is this: that as long as a single Somali Muslim remains alive on this soil, erase the notion from your hearts that you will be able to conquer this country – whatever might you exert. By the will of Allah this will never happen, for we are a people who will sacrifice our souls in order to defend our religion, our people and our country. We will never allow you to violate our sanctity’

These were the words of Al-Shabab’s spokesman Sheikh Ali mohamoud Rage ‘Ali Dheere’ as he delivered his speech standing beside the corpses of at least 7 Burundian peacekeeper killed by the Islamists in this morning’s deadly battle. Emphatically expressed in a vigorous tone beaming with certitude, the spokesman’s words, along with the gruesome images of blood-stained corpses of the Burundian peacekeepers, were intended to cause revebreations farther away from home. They were intended for an international audience!

In this open-air mortuary of a city, the ghastly images of the peacekeepers’ bruised and half-naked bodies drew a very large crowd as usual. Chanting slogans of ‘Allahu Akbar’ or ‘God is Great’ that electrified the scene, the crowd danced around the corpses in a tumultuous excitement, each person eager to kick , drag or hurl insults at the fallen soldiers. A gloomy sepulchural atmosphere overwhelmed the senses, but with such an uproarious crowd it is often easy to forget that the corpses that lay beside the puddles of blood were once soldiers who, like the thousands of their comrades in Mogadishu, believed with conviction that they were serving a just cause; that they were saviours of the Somali people.

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Uganda’s Ill-fated Peacekeepers

Somali Man Steps on Peacekeeper’s Corpse

He was kicked, dragged, stoned and spat on. And thus the fate of yet another Ugandan soldier whose corpse was left to rot in Mogadishu’s notorious Baar Ubax junction was sealed. The unidentified soldier, complete in his military gear, was last night captured by Al-Shabab fighters in Mogadishu’s Northern district of Boondheere after a fierce gun battle took place between the forces. It is the third day of intense battles in the capital and the death toll is also increasing. Bakara market, the city’s busiest, has been under constant shelling and the number of innocent civilians thought to have been killed there has risen sharply.

Local residents denouncing AMISOM’s indiscriminate shelling has risen far above the wailing mothers whose sons have perished under the rubble. The TFG has also been severely criticized by the population for failing to put an end to the ‘Bakara genocide’ or ‘Xasuuqa Bakaaraha’ as it is known locallly. It is the Islamists, Al-Shabab, however, who have been commanding the limelight and choreographing events in the last few days, and Mogadishu’s media has been inundated with the gruesome images of AU peacekeeper’s corpses lying in the baking Somali sun or being dragged through the streets by children. Yesterday morning two Ugandan soldiers were on display in the Maslax compound; today, the corpse of another Ugandan soldier is wasting away in Baar Ubax, surrounded by a crowd of cheerful Al-Shabab supporters eager to dissect it. Read more of this post

Al-Shabab: We Did It!

As broadcast by local radio stations this evening.

Sheikh Ali Mohamoud Rage ‘Ali Dheere’ (Al-Shabab spokesman):

Today – the 18th of Rabi’ Al-Awal 1432H which corresponds to 21st February 2011 – Allah has made it easy for Harakat Al-Shabab Al Mujahideen to carry out a blessed martyrdom operation inside the old Sarenda compound – near school-Policia in Hamar Jabab. At the time this operation was carried out, there were more than 600 of the apostate TFG militia assembled there. They were waiting for the arrival of 400 troops recently trained in Djibouti to join them so that they could attack the Mujahideen.

The apostate militias were all assembled in line and their commanders were delivering speeches when the operation took place and the truck struck them – destroying everything inside the compound including offices and adjacent buildings. And that is the blessing of Allah alone.

We ask Allah to reward and accept those heroic martyrs who carried out this blessed operation and make us of those who follow their footsteps in defending their religion.

This will certainly serve as a glad tiding to please the hearts of all Muslims around the world and misery for the enemies of Allah who are bound to meet a painful torment in this life and the hereafter.

And we want to inform the people of Mogadishu – that these infidels and apostate always try to hide their losses but you know that there were more than 600 of the apostate militia in Sarenda and you have the scale of demolition to the buildings and surrounding areas – so when the truck struck them you can imagine the level of destruction it would cause.

Explosion Rocks Mogadishu

A huge explosion rocked the capital this morning. Reports are emerging that a truck laden with explosives was detonated inside a government Police Academy at around 7:30 local time. Hundreds of newly-trained government soldiers were said to me marching inside the academy in preparation for an offensive against the Islamists when the explosion occurred. The Police academy is situated opposite the famous Police training facility School-Policia in Hamar Jajab district of Mogadishu.

Although no one has yet claimed responsibility for the attack, it is strongly believed that Al-Shabab, the Islamists who are waging a bitter battle against the AU and TFG forces, are the likely perpetrators of an attack of such a grand scale. Al-Shabab fighters have, over the past years, carried out some brazen attacks deep inside government controlled territory, including last year’s audacious Hotel Muna attack in which more than 32 government ministers, senior officials and intelligence personnel have lost their lives and the airport attack in which dozens of AMISOM forces were said to have been killed.

Independent reports and eye witness accounts are estimating the number of deaths in the Academy to be as high as 100, but with no official reports from both the government and the Islamists, the number cannot be verified. What remains clear, however, is that this attack on the government compound is now not only another major demoralizing factor for the underpaid soldiers, but also another major setback in the TFG’s desperate efforts to reclaim the capital from the Islamists.

More information as the situation develops…

More Ugandan Soldiers Killed in Mogadishu

Ugandan Soldier Killed in Mogadishu

In the old Maslax military barracks, Al-Shabaab displayed the corpses of two Ugandan soldiers killed in Mogadishu’s street battles. The soldiers, along with their equipment, identity cards, photos, personal belongings and bibles, are believed to have been captured by Al-Shabab fighters yesterday after an intense 14-hour battle that broke out between the opposing forces in the city’s famous Makka Al-Mukarrama street.

Makka Al Mukkarama is perhaps the most important road in Mogadishu, serving as a vital artery that connects the Presidential Palace to Mogadishu airport. Being the only major road, out of Mogadishu’s four main roads, that is not directly controlled by Al-Shabaab, the African Union soldiers try to guard it very closely – for losing this central artery to Al-Shabaab would have some very unfavourable consequences for the AU soldiers as well as the Somali government. Local radio stations are reporting the deaths of more than 15 Ugandan soldiers and dozens of TFG soldiers, particularly from the regiments that were recently trained in Uganda and who have formed a cosy alliance with the UPDF soldiers in Mogadishu.

UPDF Soldier

AU insignia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Ethiopian Involvement in Somalia’s Media War

Mogadishu is a constantly changing landscape. In the course of the battle for this ancient port city, battle lines are often drawn and erased, defence posts erected and demolished, allegiances formed and severed, and more soldiers trained to damage and destroy. But while the interminable gun battles continue to temporarily transform the territorial gains of the opposing forces on the ground, it is the battle on the airwaves that will eventually define the final outcome of the war.

The battle is now in the airwaves and words are sometimes deadlier than the bullets. Soldiers’ confessions, government rebuttals, fervent Islamist lectures, Jihadi Nasheeds, information leaks and an overdose of carefully packaged propaganda, however infelicitous it may seem at times, appears to be the order of the day. Where one particular frequency bolsters the government’s voice and demonizes the actions of the Islamists, the other plays Jihadi tunes and sermons by senior Al Qaeda leaders, including Osama Bin Laden, glorifying Jihad and Martyrdom for the creation of an Islamic Caliphate. And as a result of the ongoing political pandemonium across the country, it has become rather difficult to find an impartial voice – detached from the political process.

Al-Shabab, the Islamists controlling majority of the country, have recently stepped up their media campaign. Al-Kataib Foundation for Media Production, the rather sophisticated Media wing of the Islamists, has recently launched a terrestrial TV channel in Mogadishu to complement their steady stream of video productions. The channel’s pilot began with the confessions of a former CIA spy recently executed by the Islamists and reaches as far as Ceelasha Biyaha and Afgooye.

The Somali government, on the other hand, having been ineffective on the ground, has recently stepped up its propaganda campaign too. News stories, on-air drama series and, well, rather implausible ‘facts’ – distinctively characterized by derision – are often reiterated on the airwaves in order to influence the opinions of the masses. But these radio broadcasts do not often appeal to all audiences in the same manner, so the race is on for the opposing sides to sway public opinion to their side. Ethiopia has now also joined the race too.

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UPDF Soldiers’ Identity Cards

Below are some of the Identity cards of some of the soldiers thought to have been killed by Al-Shabab Islamists in yesterday’s attack on Amisom bases.

Some ID cards of UPDF soldiers thought to have been killed by Al-Shabab

Musinguzi Emmanuel

Nyongesa Anthony

Barugo Chirilo

UPDF Soldiers Killed in Mogadishu

One of the UPDF Soldiers killed in Mogadishu

Mogadishu’s streets never seem to be without a corpse or two. Whether it is the African Union peacekeepers’ bodies being dragged by children on the dusty roads of Mogadishu or bodies of insurgents or the heap of civilian corpses piled on top of one another after being struck by mortars in the Bakara market, the streets in this city have witnessed more horrors than can be imagined. Usually people take no notice of the bodies lying on the concrete pavements and it is often the putrid stench of blood that sharply brings the decaying bodies to one’s attention. But the stiff corpses of the African Union forces seem to attract an unusual sort of attention in Mogadishu. Many residents flocked to the Baar Ubax Street today to witness another public event: the dead body of a Uganda People’s Defence Force (UPDF) soldier killed in a fire fight against the Al Shabab.

The Islamists have been parading hundreds of newly-trained fighters in the cities of Mogadishu, Baladweyne, Marka and Rabdhuure in the last few days and have vowed to step up their attacks against the African Union troops and the weak Transitional federal Government (TFG). Upon their arrival in Mogadishu, the newly-trained Islamist fighters, known as the ‘Mustafa Abu Yazid Brigade’ in tribute to the late Al Qaeda leader who was killed in an American air strike, immediately began their offensive. By midnight the Islamist fighters launched a surprise attack at one of the Amisom bases near Makka Al Mukarram street – a vital artery that connects Mogadishu’s KM 4 circle to the Presidential Palace and the airport and is also a supply line for the Amisom troops based in those areas – and caught the peacekeepers off guard. It is reported that up to 5 peacekeepers were killed in the attack and dozens more injured.

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