Shabaab abandons western city as Ethiopian troops advance

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As Ethiopian forces continue to press their offensive in Somalia, Shabaab forces have relinquished control of a key southern city that has been under the terror group’s control for three years.

Fighters from Shabaab, al Qaeda’s affiliate in eastern Africa, today abandoned Baidoa, the provincial capital of Bay, as large numbers of Ethiopian troops backed by Somali forces advanced on the city from the west. Shabaab is also reported to have withdrawn from Bardere, which is southwest of Baidoa. A Shabaab spokesman confirmed that Shabaab withdrew from Baidoa but claimed the terror group would fight to retake it.

“Our fighters left town this morning without fighting. Now we are surrounding the town,” Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab told Reuters. “Baidoa will be a cemetery for the Ethiopians.”

Shabaab seized Baidoa in January 2009 after Ethiopian troops withdrew from the country. One month later, Ayman al Zawahiri, al Qaeda’s emir, praised Shabaab for taking control of Baidoa. Prior to their withdrawal, Ethiopian forces had occupied much of southern and central Somalia after ousting the Islamic Courts Union from power in early 2007. And Baidoa had served as the capital of Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government, from 2006 until the Shabaab takeover in January 2009.

The recent loss of Baidoa has put Shabaab on the defensive. The terror group is being pressed by African Union and Ethiopian forces on three fronts. In addition to Ethiopia’s advance from the west, Burundian and Ugandan forces have taken control of Mogadishu after Shabaab abandoned much of the city last summer, and are slowly pressing westward to Afgoye, a Shabaab stronghold just 15 miles outside of the capital.

In the south, Kenyan forces are slowly moving northward toward the Shabaab strongholds of Afmadow and the port city of Kismayo. Kenyan troops have been fighting in Somalia since mid-October, and have only advanced to about 40 miles inside the country.

Shabaab still controls other major towns and cities along the coast between Kismayo and Mogadishu, including Jilib, Baraawe, and Merca. Shabaab recently held parades and celebrations in many of these towns after announcing its official merger with al Qaeda on Feb. 9. One day later, Shabaab’s affiliate in Kenya, the Muslim Youth Center, also said it has become “part of al Qaeda East Africa.”

Despite Shabaab’s recent setbacks in Somalia, US intelligence officials who follow the terror group closely said that even if it loses many of the cities and towns it currently controls, the group still will remain a threat and will be capable of retaking lost ground after the African Union forces leave.

“Shabaab has been in this situation before when it was part of the Islamic Courts back in 2007 up until when the group fractured in 2009,” one official told The Long War Journal. “As soon as Ethiopian troops left, the TFG [Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government] couldn’t hold its ground.”

The officials cited a lack of unity among Somali factions, corruption, poorly trained security forces, and sympathetic elements within the government as reasons to be pessimistic about the government’s chances to hold the ground seized by the foreign forces. One official also said that Shabaab has staying power and is committed to the cause of jihad at all costs.

“Ultimately Shabaab is committed to its cause, and it won’t give up easily,” the official said. “To them, these setbacks are temporary. They’ll switch from an active insurgency to a guerrilla campaign of terror attacks and assassinations when they need to, and they’ll ride out the ‘Christian occupiers’ to take on the weak government,” the official said, referring to Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Burundi, and Djibouti, whose troops have been battling Shabaab.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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  • Devin Leonard says:

    All the more reason for the US to keep up their Drone strikes against the shabaab leadership, and cut down their experienced core leaders.

  • Paul D says:


  • Ken North says:

    I completely concur with the assessment that Shabaab is a highly dedicated and resilient organization that will ebb and flow with the pulse of the campaign. AU initiatives are simply not sustainable in the long run. They are, after all, one step up from mercenaries, and marginally-trained and disciplined at that.
    Peel back the layers and we’re funding this campaign somehow, and that funding will not last much longer irrespective of the threats they represent, which are substantial and enduring.
    It is worth remembering that insurgencies like FARC, Shining Path, Abu Sayaf, and numerous others have been declared dead prematurely on multiple occasions. It took a stake through the heart to kill the Tamil Tigers and we may not yet be truly done with them.

  • mike merlo says:

    looks like the squeeze is showing signs of measurable progress

  • gary siebel says:

    Loss of Baidoa is HUGE! Further, that Baidoa went down without a shot is very revealing about Shabababoooo. The slow moving pincers of Ethiopia, AMSOM, and Kenya (now or soon part of AMSOM) are definitely starting to hurt badly.
    Shabababooo are done for, and their leaders know it. Hence the attempts at morale boosting by joining Al Q.
    What your “experts” are not considering is the fact that, for the first time, the will of Shabababooo to survive is matched or exceeded by the will to destroy them by those who surround them. It’s an old story — go too far and even the timid will counterstrike. Shabababooo went too far and now they can’t get back across the line.
    I seriously doubt your experts are in east Africa or hang out with east Africans on a daily basis. One clue to east African mindset, true of the Muslim world in general, actually, is that the vituperation with which they threaten — such as when they start claiming rivers of blood will be spilled, that a city will become a cemetery for the winners, that some sort of horrible thing(s) will happen to those who oppose them — is an indication that they are very, very afraid. Now is the time to escalate the drone strikes. Fear must be inculcated in the ignorant mind of the Shabooo fighters, who are so ignorant, isolated, and primitive, they probably believed the joining with Al Q would somehow intimidate or frighten their opponents.
    Shaboos (shortened) next technique is likely to be an attempt to reinfiltrate the cities within the mass of returning refugees so they may conduct terrorist bombings in hopes of destabilizing the government. They have no other options — they cannot engage in set battles because they would certainly lose. Their leaders know this. Kismayo is likely to become their last stand.
    Loss of the cities means loss of the covering population. A basic tenet of guerilla warfare is the ability to disappear amongst the populace. At this point, most Somali’s would gladly trade in the Shabooo for some peace and quiet.
    Defeat of Shaboooo would be a significant blow against Al Q, and a victory for Obama in an election year.

  • cessch says:

    ken the ltte may not be a great group but they are not intl terrorists. they came into existance because of the terrible things the sinhalese majority has put upon the tamils. they are not the same as shining path or the others u mentioned. and god willing they are not finished.

  • abela says:

    this is not the first time when Ethiopians control the area they will be forced out of Somalia soon


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