Al-Shabaab militants join civilians for Eid al Fitr celebrations in Somalia
MOGADISHU, Somalia - Al-Qaeda linked militant group, Al-Shabaab has on Saturday paraded its power in several towns within southern and central Somalia during Eid al Fitr celebrations, marking the end of the Holy month of Ramadan.
Just like some parts of the Muslim world, Somalia celebrated Eid al Fitr on Saturday, despite the fact that there are some who hold the celebrations on Sunday, due to a long-standing conflict on the sighting of the moon.
But photos released by proxy media outlets, showed the huge presence of Al-Shabaab militants in regions perceived to be their territories, a move which could evoke a sharp debate on the success in the fight against the Somalia-based militants.
In some of the photos, the militants were pictured in military fatigues, holding sophisticated weapons perhaps in readiness for a battle against unforeseen enemies, while at the same time kneeling down for prayers.
Around the fields where they had gathered, their traditional black flags, which are often mounted in their controlled territories, were also sighted, an indication that the group was in a friendly ground.
Some of the regions where the militants purportedly held the celebrations include Bua'le, Jilib, Qunyo Barrow, Adan Yabal, and El-Bur. Jilib town within Middle Juba is the biggest base of the militants.
In recent weeks, the US Africa Command and forces from Somali National Army [SNA] and African Union, have mounted high profile operations within the regions, through airstrikes and ground combats, but they are yet to fully liberate the regions.
So far, the US Africa Command has launched 40 airstrikes since January, the highest ever within the same period. According to estimates obtained from AFRICOM press releases, close to 60 militants have succumbed to drone strikes within the same period.
But the technical publication of the photos could further pile pressure on military forces in Somalia, which have been under pressure to secure some of the regions under the militants before the official handover of security operations to SNA troops in 2021.
The "courageous" unprecedented display by the Al-Shabaab comes just two days after top security representatives in Somalia recognized significant achievements of allied forces in Somalia during separate presentations at the UN Security Council.
In his speech at the UN Security Council on Sunday, special envoy to Somalia James Swan insisted that Al-Shabaab threats continue to "evolve" despite the fact the group has been significantly degraded by elite forces in the ongoing crackdown.
Al-Shabaab, he noted, inflicts "intimidation and violence not only through Improvised Explosive Devices, mortar attacks, and assassinations, although these continue". Also, he added, "They deploy extortion, illegal commercial activities and criminal tactics".
The UN wondered why the group would not heed to calls by the Secretary-General Antonio Guterres for a ceasefire. In March, Guitteres asked all armed groups to shift focus to the first against Coronavirus, which has literally grounded economic activities across the globe.
"We regret that al-Shabaab has not embraced the Secretary-General’s appeal for a global ceasefire and that their terrorist operations continue unabated," read the statement in part.
"In regard to the specific IED threat, Somali security forces would benefit from additional support to counter this deadly menace. I look forward to the briefing by the Director of the United Nations Mine Action Service later in this session," added the UN envoy.
AU Mission in Somalia representative Ambassador Francisco Madeira also highlighted some of the achievements against the militants, taking note of the recent liberation of the agricultural-rich town of Janaale in Lower Shebelle.
The March 16 battle left close to 140 militants dead, 28 critically injured and 18 captured, Gen. Abdihamid Mohamed, the commander of the Danab force in Lower Shebelle had said. This, Madeira noted, was a manifestation that the AMISOM troops were equal to the task before their planned exit next year.
“The recovery of Janaale represents a serious blow to the Al-Shabaab, as the town was a strategic stronghold for the group’s operations in Lower Shabelle and Mogadishu,” said the Mozambique national, who has been representing the AU commission.
Madeira, however, warned that if the process of generating sufficient, well trained, well equipped and regularly paid Somali security forces does not speed up, the country may not, by the end of 2021, be able to achieve the goal of producing a critical mass of Somali forces capable of taking over from AMISOM, hold and preserve the gains accumulated over the years.
Al-Shabaab has continued to lose ground in Somalia also partly due to ending US military airstrikes, which often targets their hideouts. Since January, the US Africa Command has launched close to 40 airstrikes, killing at least 60 militants.
Some of Al-Shabaab's bigwigs to die as a result of the airstrikes include Bashir Qorgab, who is said to have engineered the Manda Airfield attack in Kenya early this year and Yusuf Jiis, another Al-Shabaab Amniyat commander who died in Bush Madina, AFRICOM had said.
The attack at Manda Airfield was the first-ever successful raid by the militants in a base manned by American troops across East Africa. During the raid, three Americans died on the spot, forcing the US to bring the reinforcement of East Africa Regiment Force.
Last year, an attempted raid at Balligodle army base in Somalia, which hosts the US Africa Command, backfired after an intervention by the Danab troops stationed also within the base. Eleven Al-Shabaab militants were killed during the raid, police said.