Open

Coming up

Don't miss

Replay


LATEST SHOWS

DEBATE

Europe's Plan for Putin: Will Russian Leader Bend After New Sanctions? (part 2)

Read more

DEBATE

Europe's Plan for Putin: Will Russian Leader Bend After New Sanctions?

Read more

BUSINESS DAILY

Last-ditch talks aim to avert Argentina default

Read more

WEB NEWS

Celebrities in the Israel-Gaza crossfire

Read more

IN THE PAPERS

ISRAELI STRIKE TAKES OUT GAZA POWER STATION AND ZHOU FALLS FROM GRACE

Read more

IN THE PAPERS

French newspaper apologises for Sarkozy story

Read more

FOCUS

Pakistan's Ahmadis living in fear of extremist attacks

Read more

WEB NEWS

Web users show solidarity with Iraqi Christians

Read more

THE INTERVIEW

Gilles Kepel, Islamic and Arab world specialist

Read more

  • Deadly shelling strikes Gaza UN school

    Read more

  • Video: Coping with rocket attacks in Israel’s Sderot

    Read more

  • Rats on the rampage at Louvre museum gardens

    Read more

  • Dozens killed in stampede at Guinea rap concert

    Read more

  • US and EU slap Russia with fresh sanctions over Ukraine

    Read more

  • 'Compelling' signs Kosovo leaders trafficked organs, prosecutor says

    Read more

  • Europe launches last resupply ship to space station

    Read more

  • Graphic: Ebola spreads across West Africa

    Read more

  • Islamists seize key Benghazi army base as fire rages on

    Read more

  • In pictures: ن - a sign of support for Iraq’s persecuted Christians

    Read more

  • Calls mount to ban France’s ‘violent’ Jewish Defence League

    Read more

  • Venezuela: Hugo Chavez’s ‘little bird’ strikes again

    Read more

  • France extradites suspected Jewish Museum shooter to Belgium

    Read more

  • Video: How tourism is helping Rwanda’s gorillas, ex-poachers

    Read more

Africa

In photos: Tracking al Shabaab in Somalia

© Photo: Adriane Ohanesian

Video by Duncan WOODSIDE

Text by Adriane Ohanesian , , in Qoryooley, Somalia

Latest update : 2014-05-19

Operation Eagle, the latest attempt by Somalia and the African Union to drive out al Shabaab Islamic militants, has enjoyed early success. But will there be anyone to fill the vacuum once the militants have gone?

The enemy is nowhere to be seen, but their presence is everywhere.

The soldiers I’m with are vigilant, either gazing fixedly ahead or peering uneasily into buildings.

Most shops here in Qoryooley, a town seized in late March from al Shabaab, an al Qaeda affiliate, are closed, except for along the main dirt road where locals sit in the shade of the buildings. The occasional donkey cart carrying water weaves in and out between the African Union soldiers that line both sides of the narrow streets during a morning foot patrol.

Some civilians stand on tiptoe, reaching out to receive green apples, which are passed from the armoured personnel carriers. Shopkeepers lean uneasily in their doorways, barely registering the clanking tanks rolling through their town.

The capture of Qoryooley, in Lower Shabelle, is being trumpeted as a key victory for Operation Eagle, in this, the most recent offensive against the Islamic insurgents. The town is an access point to the port city of Baraawe, which is 70 kilometres away and one of al Shabaab’s few remaining sources of revenue.

The African Union force, known as AMISOM, is bankrolled mainly by Western powers. Ahead of this offensive, which began in February, there was a ‘troop surge’ – with soldier numbers bolstered to over 22,000, from around 18,000 previously.

Operation Eagle is the first major joint military operation between the African Union and the Somali National Army (SNA). The aim is to seize control of al Shabaab’s few remaining urban centres and consolidate the authority of the federal government.

Security vacuum

But as the African Union troops make progress on the ground, big doubts surround the ability of Somalia’s army and government to fill the resulting security and humanitarian vacuum once they have left.

Although al Shabaab no longer has a visible presence in Qoryooley, people are still within the orbit of the militant group, which retains a significant force just a few kilometres away and about which there is little concrete intelligence.

The fertile rural parts of Lower Shabelle are ideal for farming. The area supplies food for larger cities. But the offensive – and al Shabaab’s resistance – obviously creates problems for local farmers.

“They have made our homes their defensive lines. We are poor people - farmers and cattle herders. We have been hit by bombs," says local farmer Jibril Abdi.

But Jibril has been fortunate, in some respects. Others have lost their crops to the flooding of roads and fields, a deliberate al Shabaab tactic to slow the movement of African Union troops. The insurgents use canal locks to divert the Shabelle River, making roads impassable, according to the Ugandans.

"Whenever they discover our plan of cordoning off a nearby centre, they flood the road," says Geoffrey Ongom, a captain in the African Union’s Ugandan contingent.

Al Shabaab also controls major supply routes to the south, blocking civilian movement in and out of African Union held territory and stopping farmers and traders from transporting their goods.

Somalia’s army – untrained and unprepared

On top of the challenges that the enemy presents, the Somali National Army (SNA) is struggling with other issues. While some have been trained under the guidance of the European Union, most have not received any formal instruction, but are still sent to the frontlines.

"We were told: 'Fight al Shabaab now,'” a wounded SNA soldier, Abdullaye Ali Halena, explains. “They told us 'you will be given training and support later’.” These circumstances leave the soldiers demoralised and feed the impression that the national army is incapable of providing security to its citizens.

Poorly funded and infiltrated by al Shabaab, Somalia’s army lacks military barracks, and there is no guarantee that the soldiers will see their monthly salary of $100.

“You leave 200 men somewhere and the next day there are only 20 left," rues Ali Aden Humad, a spokesman for the African Union, referring to the Somali army.

Whilst the African Union force has been successful in removing al Shabaab from most urban centres, the struggle against the insurgent group continues, even in Mogadishu. The militants were pushed out of the capital in August 2011, but the militants continue to pose a daily threat.

After the military offensive is over, it will become the responsibility of Somalia’s government to maintain security and to provide humanitarian assistance.

But all the signs here point to the African Union troops being required to provide more than a supporting role for a long time to come.

Date created : 2014-05-19

  • SOMALIA

    Islamist militants kill second Somali lawmaker in 24 hours

    Read more

  • SOMALIA

    French, British UN workers shot dead in Somalia

    Read more

  • SOMALIA

    Al Shabaab militants attack Somalia’s presidential palace

    Read more

COMMENT(S)