Could the Al Shabaab be running scared even as Amisom mandate ends in March?

Saturday January 12 2013

By FRED OLUOCH Special Correspondent

A recent announcement by the Al Shabaab that it plans to move its base to semi-autonomous Puntland could indicate that the militants are on the run.

Those close to the operations of the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom) say that the force has made great progress in its efforts to return Somalia to normalcy and is currently consolidating its gains in areas it is controlling.

Al-Shabaab still controls large parts of central Somalia such as Bay and Bakool, but the militants are currently finding it difficult to get suppliers, besides evading the occasional American drone strikes.

Recently, the militants attacked Puntland forces in Bossaso, the region’s main port town, 1,500 kilometres northeast of Mogadishu, applying a hit and run tactic.

Those familiar with Al Shabaab operations say that ever since the group lost many important districts and regional capitals in the southern and central regions of Somalia, the militants have been focusing on Puntland, an area mainly made up of mountain ranges and formidable hideouts for insurgents.

Puntland is generally not under anyone’s control and the Al Shabaab are hoping to use the area to re-group.

But Colonel Ali Aden Houmed, the Amisom Force spokesperson told The East African that Al Shabaab is known for chest-thumping.

But, he maintained that Amisom will stick to its mandate and can only extend its operations to Puntland with the permission of the African Union and with the request of the Somali government.

A quiet war front

Kenya Defence Forces spokesperson, Col Cyrus Oguna, conceded that the war front has gone quiet in the recent past because the Al Shabaab has been dismantled, but Amisom has to remain in place because the institutions to take over security matters are still not yet in place.

With the current mandate of Amisom ending in early March, a delegation of AU commissioners held discussions with the Somalia government in Mogadishu to evaluate the Amisom mandate.

“The review of Amisom and the implementation of its mandate serves to determine how best the mission can further contribute to the stabilisation of Somalia and the successful implementation of the priorities set by the Somali government, in close co-ordination with an empowered and restructured National Somali defence and security sector,” said Eloi Yao, Amisom senior public information officer.

Since the nature of the Somali government changed from transitional to permanent late last year, the AU wants to review the mandate of the peace keepers in Somalia.

On the other hand, the new Somali government is also looking at identifying the benefits of the continued presence of Amisom; the challenges peacekeepers are facing and how the Somali people perceive the continued presence of Amisom.

Mr Yao said that for the past three weeks, Amisom has been conducting a review of its mandate and strategic goals and the review will end by January 15.

A preliminary report should be presented in the next couple of days to different committees for inputs and polishing up, before the final report is presented to the AU Chairperson.

In the meantime, the rush by countries to open embassies and high commissions in Mogadishu is an indication that Somalia is slowly returning to normalcy.

Embassies

Kenya is in the final stages of nominating an ambassador for its embassy in Somalia.

The Kenyan Embassy in Mogadishu was forced to close its doors when the central government of the late General Mohamed Siad Barre was defeated by rebel groups in 1991 and the Horn of Africa headed towards lawlessness.

But ever since the transitional federal government ceased in August 2012 and was replaced by the permanent government led by President Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud, a good number of countries have declared their intentions to reopen their embassies in Mogadishu.

According to Ms Fawzia Yusuf Haji Aden, the Somali Minister for Foreign Affairs, countries like Britain, China and Italy should soon open their embassies. Currently, countries like Ethiopia, Sudan, Djibouti and Turkey are keeping diplomatic missions in Mogadishu.

In December 2012, the African Union announced its intention to open an office in the Somali capital. The UN and other agencies are also increasing their presences as the country’s security situation continues to improve.

Additional Reporting by Abdulkadir Khalif in Mogadishu