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AU Force Pursues Elusive Enemy in Somalia

  • Gabe Joselow

African Union forces have wrested control of territory from al-Shabab militants in southern Somalia. However, with ever-changing tactics, the terrorist group has proven to be hard to finish off.

In the early morning light, AMISOM soldiers in southern Somalia deployed a surveillance drone to seek out a hidden enemy the al-Shabab militants who once controlled this territory.

Ugandan peacekeepers pushed most of the militant forces out of this area in the past two months, but the threat has not yet been completely eliminated.

His eyes glued to the screen, soldier Dickson Arineitwe spots something suspicious.

"A group of men in a semi-circle, and when they detected us, they have now dispersed. They have disappeared," said Arineitwe.

Just like that, the enemy vanishes.

In March, Ugandan soldiers reclaimed control of the town of Qoryool, a major commercial center in the Lower Shabelle region, south of Mogadishu.

Many people fled the town as peacekeepers closed in, but life is slowly starting to return to the streets.

The militants had used a police station as their base of operations in town, before being pushed out by AMISOM and Somali forces.

For years, al-Shabab's black flag waved from the flagpole above the square, but it has now been replaced by Somalia's national flag.

Despite this success, AMISOM captain Caesar Olweny said the group is down, but not defeated.

"We could still have some few elements within town who have now melted into the community in civilian clothes and that is a group which can also mean to be very dangerous," said Olweny.

Al-Shabab has adopted different tactics since leaving Qoryoole, such as blocking off sections of the Shabelle river, flooding irrigation canals and roads.

The disruption has impeded AMISOM's movements, and has cut off supply routes to town.

Somali National Army Commander Mohammed Abdi says people are struggling to get basic items.

"The local community has a lot of issues and the roads connecting towns are not yet secure," said Abdi.

While AMISOM has been able to secure Qoryoole, the Somali National Army has been disorganized and unable to re-establish strong government control here, and in other towns in the region.

The al-Shabab problem has been pushed south and further operations are planned to remove the militants from their remaining bases.

Howver, if the group has shown anything, it's that resilience is its strong suit.
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