Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud has said that his country is seeing gains in the fight against the Somali-based, al-Qaida-affiliated Islamist militant group al-Shabab, following recent clashes in central Somalia between the Somali National Army supported by pro-government local clan militias and al-Shabab.
“We see a strong momentum against al-Shabab and want to sustain it to defeat a group that has proven to be remorseless and [like the] mafia, which has attained economic autonomy through intimidation and the murder of innocent people,” Mohamud said.
In a speech to the Somali diaspora community in the Washington area Friday, he said his government is organizing a strong military front in the southern Jubaland state of Somalia.
“There is ongoing preparation to liberate al-Shabab from middle-Juba region in southern Somalia, the only region in the country where the militants control its entirety,” Mohamud sad.
He said his government’s new approach is being encouraged by the resistance of local clan militia, who keep fighting al-Shabab in the central Somali regions of Hiran and Galguduud.
“Once they could not tolerate the intimidation, the extortion and the abduction of their children, now some local clans say they have started fighting al-Shabab. Therefore, we want to support our people to live in peace and dignity,” Mohamud said.
On Saturday, hours after the president’s speech in the U.S. state of Virginia, the Somali National Army said it killed 43 militants in central Somalia.
“The Somali National Army launched an attack on the al-Shabab base in Aborey village and took over the militant base, killing 43 militants,” Brigadier General Mohamed Tahlil Bihi, infantry commander of the Somali National Army told government radio.
Aborey is 25 km east of Bulaburte, a town 220 km north of Mogadishu.
On Thursday, speaking to the government news agency (SONNA), Somali army chief General Odowaa Yusuf Rageh said the SNA killed at least 18 al-Shabab militants in an operation in the Buq Aqable area in the same region, located about 90 km south of Beledweyne city, the provincial capital of the Hiran region.
Government military officials say that in the recent military campaign against al-Shabab army troops, backed by armed locals, have killed more than 100 al-Shabab fighters and "liberated" 20 villages from the al-Qaida-affiliated group.
Mohamud’s Washington visit
In an exclusive interview with VOA Somali, President Mohamud said he discussed new government strategies to fight al-Shabab with top U.S government officials, who he said pledged “full support for his government.”
At the Pentagon, President Mohamud met Thursday with U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, at the White House with the president’s National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and Homeland Security Adviser Dr. Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, and at the State Department with U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland.
He said his trip to Washington has been mainly focusing on two things, security and the drought, which is feared to cause famine in parts of Somalia from October through December.
“All the existing policies and strategies against the militant group seem to have fallen short of our expectations and the expectations of our partners because the militants keep changing tactics to survive. We came up with a new strategy that is based on two things, [an] ideological war front and cutting al-Shabab’s economic lifeline,” Mohamud said.
According to a statement from the U.S. Department of Defense, Austin and Mohamud "exchanged views on the security outlook for the Horn of Africa in light of climate shocks, humanitarian issues, conflict, and the threat of violent extremism."
A White House statement said, “Mr. Sullivan and President Hassan Sheikh discussed the importance of political reconciliation in Somalia, particularly the renewed coordination between the federal government of Somalia and federal member states to improve governance, law enforcement, service delivery and security for the Somali people.”
“Great to see Hassan Sheikh Mohamud with Under Secretary of State in Washington to discuss shared stabilization, good governance and humanitarian goals. The United States is committed to helping the people of Somalia counter terrorism, prevent famine, and advance democracy, and save lives,” Blinken said in a Twitter post.
“It was a pleasure to meet with secretary Blinken and Under Secretary Nuland in Washington. We agreed on the importance of combating terrorism, promoting good governance and responding to [the] drought in Somalia. The U.S. is a strategic partner in Somalia’s sustainable development and progress.” Mohamud said in a Twitter post.
Mohamud also met with The World Bank Group President David Malpass and International Monetary Fund (IMF) Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva.
“Mr. Malpass has reaffirmed to President Mohamud the World Bank Group’s (WBG) support to Somalia’s response to ongoing drought and humanitarian crises through reprogramming and additional financing and utilizing resources from IDA (International Development Association) Crisis Response Window,” the World Bank said.
“I have discussed with all the U.S. government officials and the leaders of the other Washington-based institutions I have met, including senior officials from the World Bank and IMF on security, economic recovery and reform, as well as the ongoing drought situation in Somalia,” Mohamud told VOA.
Mohamud also served as Somalia’s president between 2012 and 2017 and is the first Somali leader to win a second term in office. After his victory in May he promised to transform the troubled Horn of Africa nation into "a peaceful country that is at peace within and with the world."