By Herbert Ssempogo
and Anne Mugisa Â Â Â Â Â Â
THE al-Shabaab, an outfit infamous for terror in Somalia, has lost more strategic positions and areas to the transitional government forces backed by the Ugandan and Burundian peacekeepers.
Uganda has some 4,300 troops in Somalia supporting the countryâ€™s embattled government against the Islamist insurgents. Â
In July, al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for the bomb blasts that claimed 79 lives in Kampala. The militants said they were opposed to Ugandaâ€™s presence in Somalia.
The secured areas are in the Somali capital Mogadishu, according to a statement from the AMISOM force spokesman, Major Barigye Ba-Hoku.
Newly captured areas are Taribune Square, the former military hospital, Taleh Hotel and many other places in that area. The areas are close to Bakara Market, the groupâ€™s launching pad for mortars that wreak havoc in the city.
â€œThe move into these positions is designed to inhibit the groupâ€™s ability to hide behind non-combatants and should result in a drastic reduction of civilian casualties in the city. Their ejection from Bakara is also expected to reduce their means of making war as they have been extorting money from the traders at the market,â€ Major Barigye Ba-Hokuâ€™s statement said.
Â Clan divisions and disputes over command, policies and the role of foreign fighters within Al-Shabaab are believed to have caused the losses Al-Shabaab suffered in the August/September offensive
Barigye also revealed that the Al-Shabaabâ€™s deputy commander-in-chief, Mukhtar Robow, has since withdrawn his forces from the city owing to rifts within the extremist group and moved his forces to Bay and Bakool regions of southern Somalia.
Robow is reportedly considering forming a new group to be called Al Itihadul Islamia, and is apparently consolidating his forces in anticipation of a coming fight with his former comrades â€“ most probably Ahmed Godaneâ€™s group, Takfir.
Barigye said there were also reports that Robow had been expelled from the 10 member Shura Council that is made up of 4 Somalis and 6 foreigners, a sign of foreign domination of the Al Shabaab.
Robowâ€™s forces, mostly from the Rahawein clan, bore the brunt of these casualties, with nearly 10 percent of the estimated two thousand men he had deployed in the city killed
â€œThe withdrawal of Robowâ€™s fighters is a massive body blow to the Al-Shabaab insurgents as they constituted a big portion of the groupâ€™s fighting force during the offensive. The extremists are attempting to replace the lost capacity by abducting children into service. Sources say nearly 2000 children are being held and undergoing training in the groupâ€™s camps in Central Somalia,â€ Barigye said.
He is allegedly close to Hassan Dahir Aweys, leader of the rival Hizbul Islam militia, who has also pulled out his forces from the capital. This leaves Al-Shabaab isolated at a time when the Transitional Federal Government troops, supported by African Union forces are making gains on the ground in Mogadishu.
The transitional federal government has lately expanded the areas under its control in the city. The seven districts it controls are now home to 90 percent of the cityâ€™s population as people move away from the harsh regime imposed by the insurgents, the statement from Somaliaâ€™s information ministry said.
Acting Prime Minister, Abdi Wahid Gonjeeh yesterday called on the armed opposition groups to join the countryâ€™s peace process for the sake of the suffering populace. â€œWe are ready to work with our brothers in these groups provided they renounce the use of violence,â€ he said.
Museveni briefs European army generals on Somalia
Meanwhile, the European Union Military Committee, the highest military body in the EU Council arrived in Uganda yesterday to on a two day visit to discuss the Somalia crisis.
The committee members are drawn from Generals of the European member state armies.
The 27 Chiefs of Defence of the EU member States led by their Chairman from Sweden, Gen. Hakan Syren met President Yoweri Museveni at State House before holding meetings with Ugandan Generals at the Imperial Royale Hotel in Entebbe. A communiquÃ© issued by the EU yesterday said that Africa is high on the list of strategic partners.
Meeting the officers, President Yoweri Museveni advised EuropeanÂ powers that the only way ofÂ fighting pirates in Somalia is to build a strong government in theÂ war-torn country.
The meeting took place at State House Entebbe.
â€œUnless these pirates live in water which I doubt, the solution is toÂ ocean piracy is to ensure a stable government in Somalia,â€ Museveni toldÂ the European Generals. .
Museveni told his visitors thatÂ what is required is control over the Somali territory airspace to ensure that Al Qaeda does not use the airspace to ferry in arms. Â Museveni said that controlling Somali airspace will ensure that arms are not smuggled into the country.
He said that there was also need to control the Indian Ocean coastlines. â€œI am seeing a lot of time wastage in controlling the Ocean when the problem originates from the hinterland,â€ Museveni observed.
Museveni said that pacifying Somalia needs a few committed African countries. He proposed that the African Union force should be composed of a few states but with strong military capacity and led by one country. The President said that Uganda is willing to raise the 2O,OOO soldiers needed for the stabilization of the war torn country.
The President defended the Somali transitional government saying; â€œI hear people who accuse the interim government of being weak, it was weak from day one thatâ€™s why the African Union decided that it needed an army to protect it.â€
Museveni said thatÂ the anti-African Union sentiments in Somalia are fuelled by foreigners from Asia. â€œ:Why do these Al Qaeda foreigners from Asia tell us to leave? They are the foreigners who should leave Somalia for Africans,â€ he said.
Â President Museveni praised the bravery of the UPDF and Burundi soldiers in Somalia.
â€œWe went to protect national institutions but now we are controlling more than what we are supposed to protect because we have defeated Al Qaeda in all their attempts to attack us,â€ Museveni explained.
Chairman of the European Military Committee, General Hakan Syren from Sweden explained to the President the role of the European defence Committee.. He thanked President Museveni for Ugandaâ€™s involvement in peace making.
TheÂ team was accompanied to State House by state Minister of defence General Jeje Odongo and Chief of Defense Forces General Aronda Nyakairima.