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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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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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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Roobow: Relationship with Al-Shabab Still Robust

Sheikh Mukhtar Roobow ‘Abu Mansoor’

In a country where the media is as much a weapon of war as the gun, Somalia’s airwaves are rife with rumours; so the news over the last few weeks of an Al-Shabab split was sort of expected. But despite this, the news, reported by anonymous sources, rocked the country, filling the cities with gossip and the public houses with debate. The locals here were deeply divided on the issue but those attuned to the political circles in Mogadishu, however, understood that Somali politics was a messy business – labyrinths of deception and treachery – so they tend to regard every statement with some level of skepticism. I adhere to their wisdom. But as the rumour gained momentum and traveled beyond the city’s limits and into the villages, saturating the airwaves with the news, anxiety soon replaced the frivolous whispers.

If the news was true, then it meant that the predominant influence of Al-Shabab in the Southern/Central regions of Somalia was coming to a rather disgraceful end, particularly, since the Islamists were deemed to have transcended the customary commitment to tribal allegiances with their calls for the implementation of Sharia Law. It also meant that the prevailing sense of safety and stablity in the areas under Al-Shabab administration would soon be jeopardized. But was it true?

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Peacekeeper’s Bodies dragged in Mogadishu

Burundian Sodier dragged

The streets of Mogadishu have a long history of brutality. Here the body of a Burundian Peecekeeper, who was apparently captured alive by Al-Shabab fighters after an intense battle yesterday in the Northern districts of Mogadishu, is dragged by children in Baar Ubax, near Bakara market. I was told that he has been dragged for the entire day by children until the body was ripped apart and then finally disposed of in a ditch.

But horrific scenes like these are not as stomach-churning here in Mogadishu as they may seem to the rest of the world. Only a few days ago, dozens of government soldiers’ dead bodies were displayed across Mogadishu’s main junctions. It has become a sort of a daily spectacle, with bodies of slain soldiers often paraded around the city.

Warning! Graphic images…

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Duplicity and Disenchantment: The Collapse of the TFG

 

Somali President, Sharif Sheikh Ahmed

‘It is the President who is causing all this trouble surrounding the government and if this government collapses, it is he who is responsible!’

Mohamed Weheliye Waqaac, MP

For the last few weeks, and the last few days in particular, Mogadishu has been in mired in disarray. The curtains of confusion have been raised and the residents here were entertained to a remarkable show: a political tug of war between the Somali President and his Prime Minister! In a bitter dispute that is threatening to break up the Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG), the Somali President, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, called on lawmakers to pass a ‘vote of no-confidence’ regarding the Prime Minister, Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke, in order to bring about a ‘change’ that would propel the government in the ‘right direction.’ In turn the Prime Minister, who is vehemently opposed to the President, denounced the attempts by the president as ‘nonsensical,’ stating that there was no need for changing the existing structures of the government. Indeed, the banality of the political landscape in Mogadishu has received its much-awaited makeover with a squabble at the highest level.

Amid the upheaval, the members of the parliament, with a 296 out of 300 majority, passed a motion last Thursday calling on the government to appear before the Parliament for a vote of confidence on Saturday in order to stay functioning. The Prime Minister, who decried the decision of the parliament, must win up to 276 votes of confidence in order to retain his position, otherwise he leaves empty handed. In this whirligig of Somali politics, however, it appears that the session was cancelled today due to reasons not revealed to the media and when a group of angry MPs decided to stage their own parliamentary session, AMISOM forces have managed to disperse them by force.

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Eid in Mogadishu: Fear Overshadows Celebrations

Ali M. Rage, Al-Shabab spokesman, leads Eid prayer

 

Somaliland Press:- In one of its rarest occasions, the city of Mogadishu today felt like a city of peace and calm rather than the deadly war zone that it has become renowned for over the last few decades. The thunderous roar of mortars and rockets and the rapid exchange of gun fire remained eerily muted this morning, and as if to honour the blessed occasion of Eid, the city remained silent. The frequently pounded Bakara market, though still healing from yesterday’s heavy shelling, closed its doors to business and public and a steady trickle of people, young and old, made their way towards the prayer site. Reveling in the rare moments of respite from the barrage of mortars that have recently pulverized much of the city, a multitude of men and women moved at aـ leisurely stroll while ecstatic children, blowing multicoloured balloons and whistles, trailed the footsteps of their parents, merrily frolicking on the streets. Their radiant faces displayed, for once, that long lost look of innocence, delight and happiness.

To mark the occasion of Eid, thousands of Mogadishu residents made their way towards Maslax, a Siyad Barre-era military compound now occupied by Al-Shabab. Though the stadium was the usual spot for Eid prayers, as it is large enough to accommodate the thousands of residents, it was abandoned in the last hour for fears that Amisom forces might shell the congregation in retaliation for the attack at the airport that killed several AU and government troops. The Islamists, however, have organized several locations in and around Mogadishu to accommodate the influx of residents rushing to the congregational morning prayers that marked the end of the fasting season and the beginning of family reunions and splendid feasts.

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Mogadishu: The Imminent Fall

Maj. Barigye Ba-Huko

The voice of Major Barigye Ba-Huko, the African Union spokesman in Somalia, hit the airwaves yesterday evening. Denouncing the attempts by Al-Shabab to overthrow the Somali government along with the AU troops as a mere ‘dream,’ Major Ba-Huko challenged the Islamists fighters to be braver and take on his well-trained soldiers.


‘Let them come and fight us. They know we are at the airport and I challenge them to come there instead of hiding inside the residential areas.’

 

Not more than 48 hours had passed when Ba-Huko’s imprudent dare turned into a grim reality. Al-Shabab has, a few hours ago, carried out another daring attack on the Somali government and the African Union troops stationed at the airport. Two cars, tailing one another and loaded with explosives and armed fighters, infiltrated the government-controlled territory and quietly made their way to Adan Adde International airport, passing by dozens of government bases and hundreds of armed soldiers along the way. They carried neither passports nor tickets and boarding passes; what they carried, however, was a firm conviction in their breasts that, after their operation, they would die as ‘glorious Martyrs.’

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Somalia: Legitimizing the Illegitimate

Al-Shabab Parade

 

As I type this, a fierce battle is underway in the northern districts of Mogadishu. The rapid sound of machine guns and other firearms combined with the loud reverberations of tanks firing and mortars exploding can be heard from miles away. Since the beginning of Ramadan, there has been no respite from such daily battles, but as the month of fasting comes to an end, the battles here have become increasingly intense, particularly in the last few days. And with the ever changing formations of the battle lines and territorial boundaries that define the authority of the warring sides, the battle for Mogadishu, and eventually Somalia, has entered another new neighbourhood.

After a series of co-ordinated attacks yesterday that targeted the Ugandan forces in the vital artery of Makka Al Mukarrama and Shangani district, the Burundi forces in Boondheere district as well as the Somali troops, the Islamists seem to be getting ever closer to achieving their goal. At around evening the loud sounds of heavy artillery fire echoed throughout the city and the sparks of fireworks glowing against the setting sun could be seen from every corer of the city. After several hours of the rapid exchange of bullets came the deadly silence. In this bullet-scarred city, where the gun wreaked havoc for nearly three decades, the sound of a gun has become a part and parcel of life. Silence, especially after a fierce battle, often signalled that something ominous was in the air. People immediately scampered to safety, and not before long, the mortars made their daily rounds, tearing apart the tin-roofed ramshackle buildings and huts. In response to the attack, Amisom began shelling the residents. Soon the news hit the airwaves that up to 23 people were killed and dozens more injured. And though up to 230 are reported dead this month alone and more than 400 injured, the numbers are far greater than that. Estimates here are at around 500 killed and more than a thousand injured.

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