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: 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

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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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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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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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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The Ramadan Remedy

Mogadishu Morning

As the sun rises in Mogadishu this morning, it does so with a new spirit and a new prospect. Its luminous rays glow with the promise of hope and suffuse the hearts of these suffering souls with renewed optimism; it is optimism intertwined with some pessimistic undertones. But with the spirit of Ramadan saturating the surroundings of this bullet-battered city with its unique sense of jovialty and peace, some of the long-lost passions of the people have also been revived. Just like in its glory days, when Mogadishu was pulsating with youthful vitality, an animated public move about the city in preparation for the month of Ramadan. Ebullient Mogadishan women fill their baskets with dates in preparation for the holy month and buoyant kids are already counting down towards the Eid festival. All around, the city is bustling with a fertile effervescence and yet has a distinctive aura of tranquillity about it. It is surrounded by a peculiarly soothing ambiance which has somehow managed to remain defiantly placid despite the ricocheting bullets and the menacing mortars.


But while the high spirit appreciably diffuses some of the tensions in Mogadishu, a strong sensation of hostility also seems to pervade every part of the city. Ramadan, as the people of Mogadishu have come to learn, is a month of intense battles. The UN is increasing its international and local personnel in Somalia, though they are still not venturing out into the deadly Mogadishu streets. The African Union troops are positioning their mortars and have promised to increase the war. The mystic Sufis have declared war on Hizbul Islam and Al-Shabab. And the Islamists, on their part, have also vowed more attacks during Ramadan and have promised to defeat the ‘Christian Crusaders’ and the ‘enemies of Allah’ in the path of their holy war.

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Quotable Quotes:


I am optimistic that these numbers will be raised now – especially now – because these people have provoked the world more than before. And I can assure you they have invited a lot of problems for themselves,” he told journalists in Uganda

Yoweri Museveni on his decision to send up to 20,000 troops to Somalia to “eliminate” the hardline Islamist group, Al Shabaab

The president did not answer critical questions like: What are our objectives in Somalia? What are the key success indicators? What is the timeframe of our intervention? What is our exit strategy? Without answers to these questions, I am inclined to believe that we have deployed blindly into a troubled country, a factor that is likely to vitiate against success.

TMC News on Museveni’s intervention in Somalia

African leaders are daydreaming. You can’t solve Somalia’s problems by sending in more troops. With its devastating effects, the culture of using military might has been tried but failed. Now it is the time to nurture the culture of dialogue.

Zakaria Mohamud Haji Abdi, the Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia, on the solution to Somalia’s crisis.

Military approaches have only helped to radicalize more youths and exacerbate fundamentalism in Somalia. The international community needs to realize that its current and previous policies on Somalia have largely strengthened religious extremism and Somalis’ distrust of the West.

Kisiangani Emmanuel, a researcher at the South Africa-based Institute for Global Dialogue, said the international community needs to signal a willingness to accept any government that is acceptable to Somalis — including insurgents — regardless of the affiliations of its leaders.

Somalia: The Blurred Perspectives of Peace

The menacing sound of rockets whistled past my window and exploded, a few seconds later, with a thunderous noise. It is a common occurrence here in Mogadishu. Every day dozens of rockets and mortars claim the lives of innocent civilians living in areas often far away from the battle fronts. Despite living in a hotel protected by large slabs of concrete, the power of the explosion threw me to the ground. Soon the pervasive smell of gunpowder filled the corridors of the hotel. It was a harrowing experience, and though I had expected my journey to be very dangerous, the moment of explosion completely dismantled my determination. For a while the whistling sound continued, as I lay flat on the ground, followed shortly by large explosions. Once the hailstorm had subsided and things appeared normal again, I went out in response to the neighbour’s loud bellows of rage.

Outside the shattered tin-roofed house, Amina Hussein, a nurse at the local clinic, screamed her lungs out. Rummaging through the debris and gesticulating wildly, Amina had to be restrained by a group of women standing nearby. And as the crowd consoled the grief-stricken nurse, I peered into the destroyed house. Through the ruins, and illuminated by the sun’s rays seeping through the small openings, I was confronted by a horrific scene. Digging through the rubble along with some helpers, we quickly uncovered the four bodies. The nurse’s husband and three children, lying peacefully next to each other, were all covered in blood. Dressed in what seemed like a colourfully embroidered frock, the state of the youngest daughter, no more than five years of age, was perhaps the most shocking. Shrapnel had completely punctured her delicate body while blood slowly trickled out of her beautiful face.

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Missiles Rock Mogadishu

Mogadishu is under attack. Dozens of BM rockets, as they are called here, fired by the AMISOM forces have crippled the busy Bakara market and brought the entire business hub of Mogadishu into a complete standstill. Just as worshipers exited the mosques, after noon prayer today, the rockets fell. Hundreds of people in the market scrambled for safety, some hiding under concrete buildings and others rushing back into the mosques.

I had just left my apartment and decided to meet a journalist, Keyse, for lunch when the shelling began. Squeezing through the riotous crowds of shoppers, hawkers, tea ladies and past the tightly crammed stalls whose fetid odour assaulted our senses, medicine shops and juice bars, we made our way to Tawakkal Restaurant, a fairly clean and quiet place compared to the other noisy eating places in Bakara. But just before we could enter the restaurant, the sound of a rocket fired caught Keyse’s attention. Being still fairly new to this war-torn city, my senses were not quite alert yet, though I am now slowly becoming attuned to the music of mortars.

The frenzied look on my friend’s face explained it all. Without a second spared, we dashed into the nearest building, hurdling past donkey carts, screaming kids and stumbling women. Though it becomes the natural instinct to help the elderly and the weak when in need, but during times like these, and in Mogadishu’s mayhem, it is every man for his own. Several rockets, whose whistling noise was enough to send fear running through your veins, fell a few streets away from where we were.

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