Tonight the Shabab spokesman, Sheikh Ali Mohamud, spoke through the group’s official radio Al-Andalus, saying that Kismayo will not be given up without a “bloody” battle.
The war for Kismayo has been fought mostly on the airwaves for the past month, and increasingly so in the past week.
If the pro-government and Kenyan media’s reports were anywhere near the truth, the Shabab would have lost Kismayo a long time ago.
Here are the facts and fictions in the media war:
1) These rounds of battles have been raging for 3 days in the Bibi area (around 70 KM from Kismayo), which is closer to Afmadow than Kismayo. Some pro-government media was reporting that the allied forces had reached 50 KM near Kismayo 2 days ago. And today, government spokesmen were claiming that “the last defense” of Kismayo had been breached. If that is so, then why are you not in Kismayo now?
2) We were told that Al-Andalus radio had been switched off in Kismayo. This is a critical indicator of an inevitable withdrawal, as the Shabab always evacuate their radio stations before giving up a town or city. But it seems that Radio Andalus in Kismayo was indeed off air, but because of “technical issues”, according to the Shabab media.
3) If we were to believe what Chirchir has to say about Shabab casualties (that hundreds of them die whenever they fight the Kenyans – sometimes it is just a couple of dozen, he tells us), then the Shabab have probably lost more fighters than they have in the whole region. Sure, the Shabab also exaggerate the numbers they kill, but they at least show us material evidence of their exploits. Sorry to say this, but they are clearly more convincing than Chirchir, who sometimes backtracks from his comments (such as the one that the Marehan support the Shabab – a mostly correct observation by the way).
4) For weeks, Shabab leaders have been “leaving Kismayo”, anti-Shabab sites tell us. How many leaders did they have in Kismayo to withdraw them for weeks? And how can you have that many “leaders” that they take weeks to withdraw? Besides, Kismayo has been subjected to a lot of air and sea bombardment that it is barely an attractive hideout for a top Shabab leader. But amiirnuur.com (pro-Shabab) tells us yes, Shabab leaders have been leaving the city to go to the frontlines in recent days. I assume these to be the regional commanders and not the top leadership, who undoubtedly are in a safer place.
The Shabab have put up a bigger fight for Kismayo than expected, and don’t seem ready to give it up easily. According to amiirnuur,com, the group has withdrawn all “vulnerable persons”, “offices that don’t have direct involvement in the war”, and seems to suggest that the Shabab may fight even in the city.
The Ras Kamboni Brigade fighters that have fought for more than three years to get their hands on the Kismayo port and its revenue will be disappointed by this: the Shabab appear to not let the Kismayo port reopen, as amiirnuur.com (and SomaliliMemo.net – the same article was published in both websites) says that the war will also have an “economic” front.
Taking Kismayo may cost the allied forces the territory between Kismayo and the border because the Shabab have – according to the abovementioned article and shown by Shabab activity in the region – up to “10 fronts” (jabha in Arabic) – units that are made up of from 70 to 100 guerilla fighters. One such “front” was featured in the Shabab video “Igharat Hayo” (the raid on Hayo). The fighters in that video seemed well trained and war-hardened, and did indeed badly rout the Ras Kamboni Brigade fighters they raided.
In June, I had lauded the allied forces’ lack of sprinting towards Kismayo, while erroneously expecting the Shabab to put up little fight for Kismayo, and completely move to guerilla warfare as they had been doing elsewhere (in the Kismayo battles, they have used both stationary defenses and ambushes to try to slow down the allied forces). This is because the allies simply can not hold the areas outside Kismayo, as all the Somali groups aiding the Kenyans want a piece of the Kismayo cake. This is on top of the fact that they simply don’t have enough men to protect every village and town between Kismayo and the Kenyan border from the Shabab.
The Shabab will lose Kismayo sooner or later, but I doubt the costs will be worth it at this stage.
Somali sites are reporting that there have been a flood of Shabab fighters reinforcing Kismayo from other regions. Meanwhile, civilians continue to leave the city in anticipation of a protracted battle inside the city.
The Shabab are building defenses in Kismayo and mounting machine guns on top of strategic buildings, indicating that they do plan to fight within the city.
It took more than ten thousand soldiers from AMISOM, the Somali National Army and allied militias to dislodge the Shabab from Mogadishu. And even then it took them the greater part of 2 years to make the Shabab withdraw.
If the Shabab activity of surging their troop numbers in the area and building defenses are not meant to cover a sudden retreat from Kismayo – and they have been known to do that (the Mogadishu withdrawal caught the allied forces by surprise despite all the signs) – and go on to fight in Kismayo like they fought in Mogadishu, the Kenyans and their allies may really be in for a big surprise in Kismayo.
By the way, Radio Andalus is back on the air in Kismayo. Apparently there was a technical problem as the Shabab media said yesterday.
The above is an indicator that the Shabab don’t plan to retreat from Kismayo – at least not in the coming days.