The TFG has been on the offensive in the past two weeks, both in Mogadishu and the border regions. In Mogadishu, AMISOM advanced by a Kilometer to the North of Jalle Siyad Military Academy, taking a narrow stretch of road leading to the Defense Ministry, which they took after days of fighting. To do this they paid dozens in casualties. Some figures put the number at 50 dead and more than that wounded for AMISOM, and about half that number for the TFG.
Al-Shabab responded to the Mogadishu offensive by bringing in thousands of reinforcements from Lower Shabelle and Bay. They were preparing themselves for a counter-attack in Mogadishu when the TFG attacked in Beled Hawo in Gedo region. The TFG fighters there attacked from both the Kenyan and Ethiopian borders. The Kenyans were quick to deny that their territory was used to launch attacks into Beled Hawo. Their denial lost credit when hundreds of TFG soldiers entered El Wak from the Kenyan border. The Shabab in El Wak did not put up a fight and withdrew once they saw that they were outnumbered. They also withdrew from Garbaharey and Baardheere without a fight. Shabab don’t have more than a platoon in most towns and small cities. They are the Hesbah (Police) that are mostly concerned with implementing the Shariah, and keeping law and order. The Hesbah are not trained for fighting military units and therefore retreat when faced with a military attack. They continue launching hit-and-run attacks as they wait for reinforcements. The retreat of Al-Shabab from those areas has been trumpeted as a victory by the TFG, when in fact all they were doing is saving themselves for a winnable fight. This is exactly what they did when Barre Hirale-who has an annual pilgrimage to the Jubba area- invaded in 2009 with Ethiopian soldiers supporting him.He took Luuq and Garbaharey without a fight. Shabab waited for the Ethiopians to leave and easily retook every inch taken by Barre Hirale, except for Dolow which still had some Ethiopian soldiers.
Last week’s attack on Gedo by Barre Hirale prompted Shabab to divert resources and manpower from Mogadishu, putting off to a later date their planned counter attack. For now, the TFG and her allies seem to be having the initiative. But it won’t be for long. The TFG is very well known for good beginnings, bad middles, and worse endings.
The TFG attack in the border areas of south Somalia would stand a chance to succeed if their objective was to gain a foothold rather than a sprint towards Kismayo, which is what Barre Hirale can only think of ever since he lost it in 2006. The more the TFG moves away from the border regions, the more vulnerable they become. Since they depend on neighbouring countries for Logistical support, the further they move away from the border, the harder it becomes for them to get reinforcements, ammunition, and medical support for their injured. Now, they have already spread themselves thin, and have Al-Shabab guerilla groups between their units in Baardheere and El Wak. With more reinforcements on the way from Bay, Bakol, Lower Jubba and Middle Jubba for Al-Shabab, the invading TFG forces will most likely melt into the civilian population, only the most loyal will withdraw with Barre Hirale and his commanders to the border towns. He will then again be away for almost a year, recruit new soldiers, train them, and attack using the same strategy that has seen him defeated year after year since 2008. Talk about classical definition of Insanity!
The outcome of this may not be good for the TFG, but it may be worse for the Somalis in Kenya. Al-Shabab has threatened to get back at Kenya for their training and support of the TFG military. Taking into account the fact that the bombs that went off in Kampala on July 2010 were allegedly made in Kenya, it may not be hard for them to make true their threats.
When terrorist attacks happen, the second casualty -after the actual victim killed in the attack- is the innocent person arrested or lynched just for being from the same ethnic group as the suspected perpetrator. The only thing that this does is sow hate and create more potential terrorists. Hopefully there will be no attack and no unjust backlash. Hopefully.
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