A daring but ultimately unsuccessful raid by al-Shabab fighters off the coast of Somalia last month has led authorities to change the way they respond to such threats.
The militants of al-Shabab, a group trying to unseat the internationally supported government, hijacked fishing boats near the piracy hub of Harardhere and used them to ferry hundreds of fighters in an attack on March 14 that targeted the relatively stable region of Puntland in northeast Somalia.
The fighters made a surprise, coordinated landing in two areas along the coast. "No one suspected they were going to use stolen boats,” admitted Admiral Abdirazak Diriye Farah, commander of the Puntland Maritime Police Forces.
But authorities said there was a fatal flaw in the group's daring battle plans: They used small fishing boats to ferry 600 men, many of whom could not swim, across tricky ocean waters.
The difficult landing meant that Puntland and Galmudug regional administrations gained the upper hand, killing hundreds of al-Shabab militants and capturing many others. Only a small number of militants, along with their top commanders, escaped.
The attack was a disaster for al-Shabab, which admitted defeat for the first time. Spokesman Ali Dhere said, “You win sometimes, you lose other times."
Al-Shabab threatened to retaliate. Farah said his men would be able to defend the coast if another attack occurred, but in the wake of the last raid, regional administrations have rethought their defense plans.
Authorities in Puntland say they are establishing a maritime base in Gara’ad, a coastal village where the al-Shabab militants landed. Units of the Puntland Maritime Police Forces, armed with heavy weaponry and speedboats, will be deployed soon, Farah told VOA in an interview.
“Their mandate is to protect the coast from threats by illegal fishing, human and arms trafficking, and confront attacks,” he said.
Farah said his forces, who are trained for maritime combat, regularly share information with the international anti-piracy maritime forces stationed off the coast of Somalia and are well-equipped to fend off another such raid.
This week, the U.N. Security Council called for the resumption of military offensives against al-Shabab.