— Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud says the Somali military and African Union peacekeepers will soon launch operations against al-Shabab in areas still under the militant group’s control. Hassan also welcomed the addition of Ethiopian troops into the AMISOM force.
Speaking in Addis Ababa Wednesday, ahead of an AU summit, the president said the government is moving forward with plans for major operations against al-Shabab.
"[The] Somali national army and the AMISOM forces will jointly be conducting these operations to eliminate Shabab and declare all the territory of Somalia out of the control of al-Shabab," he said. "So the plans are progressing, there are timelines in it, but all I can say to you right now is they are progressing and progressing very fast."
Hassan stopped short of declaring that the end of al-Shabab was in sight.
“Well, I don’t want to exaggerate, the al-Shabab threat will be reduced immensely soon, but it will remain for some time," he said.
Last week, Ethiopian forces operating in Somalia independent of AMISOM officially joined the AU mission, helping to boost troop numbers nearer to 22,000.
Many Somalis have objected to Ethiopia’s presence in the country following its previous incursion in 2006, which helped give rise to al-Shabab as a resistance movement.
Hassan said this time around, Ethiopia will be held accountable.
“Now Ethiopia is mandated by the United Nations Security Council under the African Union flag so Ethiopia is not acting by its own, but it's acting under international mandate and I think that gives assurances to the Somali people," he said.
The push against al-Shabab by AMISOM and allied militaries since 2011 has also created some problems. The rapid liberation of previously occupied cities like Baidoa and Kismayo left behind power vacuums that the federal government has found difficult to fill.
The U.N. Special Representative for Somalia, Nick Kay, told VOA Wednesday more needs to be done now to link political and military objectives.
“Certainly establishing the right local governance has taken a bit of time, but more importantly than that is the follow through of providing, helping the local government to provide better services - schools, education, whatever - that has been slow and we want to make sure this time it is more effective and quicker," he said.
Hassan vowed to quickly install local administrations in newly liberated areas, saying the problems of the past, including disputes over the leadership of the state of Jubaland, arose because there was no plan in place.