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The African Union (AU) and Somali interim governmental troops took another key town, Afmadow, in the battle against al-Qaeda backed terrorist group al-Shabab on May 31. This victory comes only days after the AU and Somali government managed to take the strategic point of Afgoye the previous Friday. With these two victories Somalia is beginning to turn the tide on the terrorist group living within its borders.
Afmadow is a city in the south of the country, an area deep within the control of al-Shabab. The town has been a prime target for the Kenyan troops who began patrolling the south of Somalia October 2011. According to the African Union commanders, al-Shabab abandoned the city without a fight as the troops approach.
This retreat may be due to al-Shabab’s failure to keep Afgoye earlier. However, the retreat could also be a strategic ploy, since al-Shabab claimed that its previous retreat from Afgoye was intentional. A Somali analyst, Mohammed Abdulahi Hassan, claims that the militants most likely do not have the force to defeat the Kenyan troops.
Although these towns have been taken, al-Shabab still controls a large part of The Republic of Somalia. However, it is losing its hold on essential strongholds and cities, such as Afmadow and Afgoye. Both contain routes that lead to all other regions of the country. Afmadow is only 115km (71 miles) from Kismayo, the home base for al-Shabab and the main port city for many of the Somali pirates.
With the city of Afgoye and the town of Afmadow under the control of the Somali government, the port city is the only remaining stronghold of the group. Hassan claims that if Kismayo falls, al-Shabab will be “in a desperate position both politically and financially.”
However there may have been some exchange of fighting in Kismayo already. Al-Shabab claims that unidentified warships attacked the city and were repelled by the al-Shabab fighters. One al-Shabab official, Sheikh Hassan Yaqub, claimed, “the mujahideen fighters opened fire and repulsed two military ships that approached the coast of Kismayo, they were coming close to the coast when they were attacked.” The war vessels then returned fire and wounded a young boy, but no other casualties occurred.
Currently there is no confirmation on which country sent the war vessels or even if they were attempting to attack the city of Kismayo yet. The Kenyan army has naval patrols close to that area, but would not confirm if its vessels were those in the clash. Nine warships owned by the European Union deployed from France, Germany, Spain, Portugal, Italy and the Netherlands were also in the area. However, these ships are specifically reserved for the anti-piracy mission.
The interim Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali told the BBC, “hopefully the next target will be Kismayo and then we will proceed to other towns and cities…surely but slowly we are getting our country back from al-Shabab.”
In addition to the taking of Afmadow, the African Union and Somali military hope to take Kismayo by August 20. This date was set by the many disparate groups within Somalia on May 30 for the official elections to take place and the end of the interim government, yet another – although non-military – way in which the country is progressing.