MOGADISHU, SOMALIA —
The terrorist group al-Shabab has been pushed out of its last stronghold in Somalia, the coastal city of Barawe. African Union forces and Somali soldiers liberated it in their latest military victory.
For six long years, Barawe – located 220 kilometers or 137 miles southwest of the capital – served as al-Shabab's main headquarters and human slaughterhouse.
But in the first presidential visit to the city in 23 years, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud assured residents of a calmer life and encouraged those who’d left to help with the community’s rebuilding.
"It is the end of the al-Shabab. The people of Barawe can now live in peace," the president said. "For those who fled the town because of insecurity, please come back. I am sending an appeal to the diaspora and the inhabitants of Barawe to return and invest in the liberated city."
Somalia’s minister of foreign affairs welcomed the president and acknowledged his own absence for a quarter century. “It is the first time I come back to Barawe for the first time in 25 years,” Hamza M. Burci said.
Under an offensive named Operation Indian Ocean, Somali and African Union troops dislodged the extremist group from a string of towns. The operation has seen the federal government exert its authority in areas once under al-Shabab control.
Military claims support
Brigadier General Dick Olum, who commands the Uganda contingent of the peace-keeping African Union Mission to Somalia, said a semblance of government has been restored in Barawe.
Speaking from "the exact ground where al-Shabab used to conduct its executions," Olum told Barawe’s residents "that al-Shabab is no more" and that "the government of Somalia is taking charge. The Somali National Army has taken charge."
The Somali army also said it is winning public support.
General Mohamed Hassan Qafow, its commander, said military leaders had spoken with community members "and they are very happy. They have confidence in us and are very happy with Operation Indian Ocean. … They welcomed us warmly. We are very confident that we can work with this community."
Al-Shabab used the port as a transit point for importing arms and exporting charcoal, a trade the U.N. Security Council banned in 2012. The council recently authorized inspection of boats suspected of carrying charcoal or weapons for al-Shabab.
With control of Barawe, the government hopes to deprive al-Shabab of three things: a major route for importing weapons, the movement of local and foreign fighters, and its financial lifeline.