Today AMISOM forces with the help of TFG forces (and their allied clannish militias) managed to capture the strategic town of Afgoi, which lies around 25 kilometres to the northwest of Mogadishu.
After fighting the allied forces for a couple of days in Daynile in North Mogadishu, the Shabab seem to have capitulated to the numerically and militarily superior forces, and withdrawn in a rather unceremonious manner.
Shabab leaders are rumoured to have withdrawn to Marka, which lies about 90 kilometres to the southwest of Mogadishu.
The importance of Afgoi lies in the fact that it is a crossroads town that connects, via its bridge across the Shabelle river, Lower Shabelle region to Bakool region, and Lower Shabelle region to Mogadishu.
Now the Shabab will find it much harder to supply their guerrilla units involved in hit and run attacks on AMISOM and TFG bases encircling Mogadishu.
They will, however, have a chance to move a lot of their bomb-making equipment in Elasha Biyaha on the outskirts of the city into Mogadishu proper, as allied lines become more fluid due to the restructuring of their lines and the huge influx of people back to the city from the Afgoi corridor (population estimate: half a million people).
Since allied forces have not moved north to reach the road that connects Afgoi with Balcad (still in Shabab hands), the Shabab will continue to attack outer bases of the allied forces from the north and east of Mogadishu.
The residents of Afgoi have reportedly started leaving the city en masse. Not everyone who is leaving is a Shabab supporter: some people are afraid of having two armies fight over them; others are just afraid of TFG forces thanks to 3 years of Shabab indoctrination, and others may be afraid that the old injustices would be reinstituted.
Afgoi was ruled for a decade and a half by non-locals from central Somalia. These people did everything to the locals and stopped just a little from totally enslaving them. Farmland was grabbed at will, and the blood of a local was not worth the blood of a mouse.
Several years ago I was in Bulo Marer in Lower Shabelle (still in Shabab hands) when I was told of a local who had just been shot dead by a guy who was going about his daily life as if nothing had happened. Apparently the local had “sweet-talked” to a girl from his clan. No discussion: just a bullet to the head of the local.
Many of the militias who accompanied AMISOM to Afgoi are central Somalis from the former administration of Lower Shabelle. Many of them are no doubt notorious for various crimes in the region. I wonder of the murderer from Bulo Marer is one of them (if he isn’t one of the dozens killed by the Shabab when they took the region).
For the TFG to successfully portray itself as an alternative to the Shabab, it should not let clan militias from other regions ever rule peoples of other regions.
The Shabab have succeeded in showing themselves as being sensitive and supportive to these wronged, formerly-unarmed peoples of southern Somalia.
They have in turn been rewarded with apparently genuine pledges of allegiance and hundreds of recruits from them (I am being conservative in my estimate: they may be thousands).
To gain the trust of the locals, rule of law should quickly be re-established in the former Shabab territories and injustice never allowed to reign in the land.
Possible Shabab response
The Shabab may very likely respond with a major suicide attack or an increase of their nightly assassination and hand grenade attacks.
I would not chew Khat outside my home after sunset (yes, the Shabab security department rules many streets of Mogadishu after sunset) or drive to work early in the morning if I was a TFG official.
The road between Mogadishu and Afgoi will very likely be an IED zone. Try guarding more than 20 kilometres of road from night diggers (the guys who lay the IEDs).
Somali forces will be the first targets of the Shabab. Not only do these move around more freely and drive in cars that are not armoured, they are seen as being the “eyes of the enemy” by the Shabab.
Possible Shabab policy changes
The popular Sheikh Nur Moalim has called on all Somalis to join the war against the foreign forces and their allies (the TFG). He has said that the war should not be considered as a war on a particular set of people (the Shabab), but a war on all Somali Muslims. He may be supporting the unbanning of non-Shabab Islamist groups.
If the Shabab listen to him – an almost zero chance of that happening – they may reverse their ban of non-Shabab Jihadi groups in Somalia.
This ban has apparently backfired on the Shabab, with many in the group opposing the ban – some of whom were suspected of planning to announce the creation of a new group with no ties to Al-Qaeda. The drones have excellent convincing powers, if you ask me.
Also, the fact that the Shabab don’t want any other group to fight does make it look like this is their war and theirs alone (which it is).
This capture of Afgoi is a great victory for AMISOM/TFG, but until there is real advance towards the north and east, there is a long way to go in tightening the security belt around Mogadishu.
Any advance towards Marka or Wanlaweyn to the north of Afgoi (as the rumours say will be the case), without first capturing Balcad to the north of Mogadishu or even Cel Macan to the east of Mogadishu, will not help in securing Mogadishu.
On the contrary, AMISOM may end up stretching itself toward the wrong direction, only to be faced be a resurgent Shabab rising with the sun from the east.