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 Shabaab is also reported to have withdrawn from Bardere, which is southwest of Baidoa.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.
Are you a dedicated reader of FDD's Long War Journal? Has our research benefitted you or your team over the years? Support our independent reporting and analysis today by considering a one-time or monthly donation. Thanks for reading! You can make a tax-deductible donation here.