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Al-Shabaab regains territory in central Somalia as forces retreat

Friday March 15, 2024

Mogadishu (HOL) - Recent days have seen a strategic withdrawal of Somali national forces and local militias from several towns in the central Mudug region, leading to the resurgence of al-Shabaab militants. Forces vacated Ba'adweyne, 'Aad, 'Amara, and Hinlabi between March 9 and 14, surrendering these previously liberated areas. Reports indicate that factors such as unpaid salaries, the need for troop rotations, bribery, and internal political strife contributed to the withdrawals.

The pullback undoes significant gains in the Somali Federal Government's (SFG) counterterrorism efforts for the early months of 2024. With the support of US air strikes, the Somali forces had initially managed to dislodge al Shabaab militants, marking a notable victory in the counterinsurgency campaign that began in September 2023.

However, the security vacuum left by the retreating forces could jeopardize Harardhere, a strategic port and district capital reclaimed from al-Shabaab in January 2023. The town's capture was a cornerstone of the SFG's counteroffensive in central Somalia that kicked off in 2022.

Adding to the complexity, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has purportedly ceased salary payments to several Somali National Army units following a recent al-Shabaab attack. This move comes after militants targeted a UAE-operated military base in Mogadishu, inflicting fatalities among the Emirati personnel. The UAE's contributions, which have been vital to training Somali soldiers since 2014, face a reassessment following these developments and the broader geopolitical shifts influenced by Somalia's deepening ties with Turkey.

A February maritime agreement between Somalia and Turkey has shifted regional dynamics, diminishing the UAE's influence and impacting its strategic interests in the area. 

The infiltration of al-Shabaab into vital military installations, including the recent attack at the General Gordon Training Center in Mogadishu, highlights the militant group's ongoing threat to Somali security and the broader counterinsurgency efforts. These incidents underscore the urgent need for strengthened security measures and continued international support as Somalia navigates its path toward peace and stability amidst these tumultuous developments.


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