Somalia’s defense minister says operations will begin soon to liberate the town of Barawe, which is under the control of Islamist militant group al-Shabab. The town was the site of a U.S. Special Forces raid on Saturday targeting a militant commander.
Speaking to VOA in Mogadishu, Somali Defense Minister Abdulhakim Haji Faqi said operations would begin soon to remove al-Shabab from their stronghold in the coastal town of Barawe, south of Mogadishu, as well as other areas under militant control.
“We intend and plan to liberate them very soon. And as you know, really, al-Shabab, wherever we attack them, they do not fight back, they do not defend, they just evacuate and run,” he said.
Barawe became a key base for al-Shabab after Kenyan forces drove the militants from their former stronghold - the port city of Kismayo - last year.
During the weekend, U.S. Navy commandos landed on the shores of Barawe in an operation to capture an al-Shabab commander holed up in a militant safe house. But the U.S. soldiers were forced to retreat after coming under heavy fire.
The U.S. Defense Department said the operation failed to capture the target of the raid, a Kenyan Somali who went by the name Ikrima, said to be linked to past terrorist attacks in Kenya and Tanzania.
Minister Faqi said he welcomed all efforts to weaken and defeat al-Shabab, and called for more international support for security forces in the country.
He said the militant group’s siege on the Westgate Shopping Mall in Nairobi last month showed the threat extends beyond Somalia’s borders.
“The issue of al-Shabab is not only a Somali issue only today, as you know. As the Westgate Mall attack, this is a wakeup call for the international community, for the countries in the East African region to help Somali security sectors and Somali government to defeat al-Shabab,” said Faqi.
In 2011 and 2012, al-Shabab was pushed out of Somalia's major cities, including the capital, under pressure from the African Union-led peacekeeping force known as AMISOM.
Faqi said forward progress against the al-Qaida linked militants has slowed in the past year as the fight moved further away from the cities, stretching the capacity of AMISOM and Somali forces to protect liberated areas.
The United Nations Security Council is due to review the AMISOM mandate this month, and is expected to decide on a temporary boost in troop numbers.
Minister Faqi is due to attend a parliamentary hearing Wednesday to answer questions from lawmakers about Barawe and the security situation at large.