Mogadishu — Al-Shabaab's leaders and foot soldiers are on the run after losing significant ground to the Somali National Army and allied forces in a series of recent battles, security officials say.
"We know that there is no place left in Somalia for the so-called radical al-Shabaab movement, whose leaders, members and followers must be expelled or even killed so security and stability prevails once again throughout the country," Hiran Governor Abdifatah Hassan Afrah told Sabahi. "We have to extinguish the flame of violence that they spread in East African countries."
Afrah called for operations targeting al-Shabaab's leaders, whom he called "a cancerous growth in the body of the Somali people". He said such operations would spread panic and frustration among al-Shabaab operatives who have been trying to find a foothold in the Golis mountains and in southern Yemen, where they are trying to join forces with al-Qaeda-affiliated Ansar al-Sharia.
Commander of the First Battalion General Abdullahi Ali Anood said the Somali National Army, with backing from the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), would take over the town of Bulo Burde in the Hiran region soon in an attempt to cut off access to the road that links Bulo Burde with the towns of El Bur in Galgudud, and Tayeglow in Bakol. This will hinder the flow of the group's military supplies and trap al-Shabaab fighters in the central regions, disrupting their logistical support, he said.
Hundreds of Somali soldiers stationed in Hiran and Lower Shabelle will take part in this joint operation, Anood said. "We are preparing for a bloody battle against al-Shabaab to prevent it from rebuilding its infrastructure and regrouping, and [its fighters] will be unable to find a safe haven in which to hide," he told Sabahi.
Al-Shabaab losing ground
Al-Shabaab still controls some areas in the Hiran region, but it has been losing strategic towns such as Beledweyne, the regional capital, which Somali and Ethiopian forces took over in December 2011 after forcing the militants out of Matabaan and surrounding villages.
Al-Shabaab's leader Ahmed Abdi Godane, also known as Mukhtar Abu al-Zubair, has admitted publicly that his group's fighters have been defeated in a series of recent battles in Somalia.
"This year comes as the crusade against Islamic rule in Somalia has been mounting and the crusader enemy has intensified its military, security, political and media capabilities to dim the light of sharia and defeat Islamic rule," he said in an audio message released December 11th.
Godane said al-Shabaab would resort to guerrilla tactics after allied forces intensified their operations against the militants.
Nur Ahmed Dahir, an al-Shabaab defector, said some of his former colleagues told him that Godane has been concealing his identity by covering his face with a black scarf to blend in among his soldiers.
Godane reportedly carries a Kalashnikov rifle and dozens of hand grenades in a small bag, Dahir told Sabahi, and has been moving between mountains close to Dinsoor to other areas in the Hiran and Bakol regions.
"The group bans any questions relating to a jihadi's nationality, name, family background or tribal affiliation to guard against spying, a charge that may lead to execution by firing squad or decapitation," Dahir said. "That is why few soldiers in the group can identify their emir."
Hiran Deputy Governor Mohamed Maalim Yusuf called for assassination operations against al-Shabaab's leaders to thwart their terrorist plans. This would allow government forces to take control of several areas in the central and southern regions such as Hiran, Galgudud, Middle Shabelle, Lower Shabelle, Middle Jubba, Lower Jubba and Gedo, he said.
"It is not unlikely for terrorist leaders who have been moving between the towns of El Bur, Bulo Burde, Tayeglow and Dinsoor to be targeted," he told Sabahi. "We will soon cut off the land road connecting these towns with the support of the Djiboutian forces and the Ugandan troops that are marching from Jowhar, capital of the Middle Shabelle region, and heading towards Bulo Burde."