Will clan militia help Somalia defeat Al-Shabaab?
MOGADISHU, Somalia - For the last four months, Somalia has heightened the fight against Al-Shabaab with the national army getting support from the US Africa Command, the African Union Transition Mission in Somalia [ATMIS], and a group of clan militia particularly Macawisley in central and southern regions.
Apparently, it is the clan uprising against the militants which has significantly shaped the gains and even helped the national army to recover several towns where Al-Shabaab was initially dominant. The militia has full blessings from the government of Somalia according to top officials.
So far, the militia has taken over important checkpoints in the country which were raking Al-Shabaab a lot of money which they use in paying fighters besides purchasing sophisticated weapons according to the Washington Post.
“What we’re seeing is really large-scale combat operations taking place in Somalia and incorporating the clans in a way that we just have not … seen,” said Rear Adm. Milton Sands, who heads U.S. Special Operations Command Africa, in an interview. “I’m really optimistic.”
While clan militia has fought Al-Shabaab before, it is this time that their resilience has attracted more people who are taking arms against the militants, whose presence in central and southern parts is still huge according to observers.
“I’ve been in and out of Somalia for 13 years, and I’ve never seen the federal government, member states, and clans all angry and so united to finish al-Shabab,” said Gen. Keith Katungi, the acting force commander of the African Union peacekeeping force in an interview with Washington Post. “This is the first big Somali-led offensive.”
In multiple interviews with the publication, victims confirmed joining the militia while giving several reasons. One man said he did so after al-Shabab confiscated 60 of his camels, representing his life savings when he had refused to join the militants.
Another said he joined the fight after al-Shabab seized his nephew and other children to train as fighters. Yet another man said his 12-year-old brother had been wounded in an al-Shabab bombing, while others said they were motivated by the killing of relatives, religious differences, or heavy taxes imposed by militants.
The government, they say, is providing imports supplies including dispatching troops to fight alongside them on various frontlines. So far, over 20 strategic villages have been successfully retaken from Al-Shabaab, with the latest coming in Adan Yabal where government troops stormed in this week.
President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud has repeatedly asked patriots to join the war while exuding confidence that the militants will be eventually defeated as Somalia reclaims lost glory. “If al-Shabab leaves their mindset, we can welcome them back,” he told the crowd. “But if they stay, they must be destroyed.”
Al-Shabab militants had attacked Baxdo three times this year. The town had fallen to al-Shabab for a few hours in January before the local, heavily armed clan militia regained control. The militia repelled subsequent attacks in June and September. Car bombs from the last battle engraved starbursts into the cream walls of the main mosque. Bullet holes still pocked the tall minaret.
In some instances, the US Africa Command has been providing aerial surveillance to the national army and the local militia, and at times, they have been forced to rescue them when under attack from the militants. Several airstrikes have been activated from the month of September to date.
In August, Danab scored another success in a battle with militants in the town of Hess, according to Major Aydarus Mohamed, the 6th Danab Battalion commander. “The locals were already angry,” he recalled. “They said, ‘If you want these guys, they are over there.’” The gunfight lasted less than an hour and as night fell, the militants began to move from their position, exposing them to a U.S. airstrike.
However, some regional experts warn that government backing for clan militias could backfire.
“The communal militias that have pushed al-Shabab out are eventually going to start pushing their own agendas. It’s been a pattern over the last decade,” said Paul D. Williams, a professor of international studies at George Washington University.
Hussein Sheikh Ali, Somali National Security Adviser, played down those worries, stressing that the government is not providing militias with weapons, just ammunition, fuel, and food. The military, he said, should accompany militias and initiate any offensive action, ensuring that clan forces are focused on al-Shabab rather than rivals.
“We cannot claim we will eliminate clans fighting,” said Defense Minister Abdulkadir Mohamed Nur. “But we are constantly having meetings with them to make peace and persuade them to fight al-Shabab together,” he said.