Al-Shabab: 1977-78 War Veterans Recalled
March 2, 2011 3 Comments
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:
“Today I once again call out to all the soldiers who participated in the war [1977-78] to come and support the Mujahideen. He who used to operate a tank would, by the will of Allah, be able to operate a tank once again; he who used to fly a fighter jet would, by the will of Allah, be flying a fighter jet soon. We need to stand together.”
Speaking on behalf of the veterans, Major Hassan Hirsi Nur “Hassan Takbir” addressed the media:
“As veterans of the Somali republic now living in Gedo, we have hereby unanimously agreed that, from this moment onwards, we stand alongside the Mujahideen in their fight the infidels.
After witnessing the increasing amount of infidels from Uganda and Burundi who are now present in Mogadishu, as well as Kenyans and Ethiopians waging war along our borders, we have decided to take part in the war so that we may defend our religion and our country from the infidel invaders.”
A different tune indeed. And slightly discordant with the former patriotic melodies that they went to war with. It is not the first time, however, that the Somali veterans have been called to duty. During 2006 when Ethiopia intervened in Somalia to break up and dislodge the popular wave of the Islamic Courts Union that had ruled Southern Somalia for a ‘peaceful’ six-month period, the veterans picked up arms alongside the Islamists. Taking into account that they had enough military experience, the ICU leaders soon awarded the veterans some leadership roles that allowed them to manage battalions, weapons and supply routes. This, however, proved to be detrimental to their cause as the Islamists were soon dismantled and sent running into the forests of Lower Juba.
But Al-Shabab, the military wing of the ICU in 2006, has evolved since then and the group seems to have learnt quite a few lessons from Ethiopia’s rapid invasion and the Islamists’ subsequent defeat. Building upon this experience, it may be highly unlikely that any leadership positions– whether military or political – would be granted to the veterans. Benefiting from their expertise, however, though a bit rusty by now, along with the huge publicity on the political podium, the Islamists would most likely use the veterans as instructors and mid-level trainers.
This, of course, is still a burning issue and is being played out on the political tables and throughout media, but if the veterans remain true to their word and join the Islamists, it stands as a clear evidence, despite the Western countries’ vehement denial, that Al-Shabab’s ideology has penetrated not only the ‘susceptible’ minds of the young, and often enthusiastic, youth of Southern Somalia, but tribal elders and even former soldiers of the Somali Republic.
By undertaking this perilous path of ‘Martyrdom for the sake of Allah’ the veterans, who, because of the old system of governance can often be irascible and hard to manage, have to get used to some new ways of fighting, modern guerrilla tactics and would perhaps have to brush up on their old skills. During their time, Somalia was a blossoming nation with a booming metropolis. Today, after more than two decades of conflict that has descended the country deeper into an abyss of seemingly perpetual darkness and despair, the Somali state has withered; its vibrancy has faded and that youthful exuberance has now lost its glow. But the question still remains, can the veterans restore Somalia’s glory?