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The Al-Qaeda linked group, al-Shabaab continues to lose ground to the allied forces of Somalia's Transitional Federal Government (TFG), Kenyan Defense Forces (KDF), Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF) and local pro-government militias, and Somali National Army. Al Shabaab fighters have re-grouped in and around their last remaining stronghold, the port city of Kismayo in Lower Juba, vowing to defend it at all costs.
Somalia Report wanted to know if and when Al Shabaab was prepared to make a stand. There have been numerous reports of Al Shabaab fighters fleeing north along the coast, division amongst leadership, arrests of key AS officials trying to cross the border and a general transition of al Shabaab from a controlling governance into a hit and run terrorist group. It would be premature to predict the islamic groups downfall or ouster but their control over port revenue from Kismayo and ability to move in the south still continues. There are no clear estimates of how many fighters al Shabaab can field but AMISOM forces continue to grow. Kenya, Uganda, Djibouti, Burundi and even Sierra Leone contribute troops, western nations continue to provide training and funding evidenced in the recent arrival of heavy truck mounted weapons recently delivered from the United States via contractors.
The recently bolstered foreign and domestic forces have seized key towns and villages from the militants including Busar, Inda El, Damase, El Afe and Faafahdhun in the northern sector and Dhobley, Qoqani, Tabta, Hayo, and Dabilo in the central sector. The allied forces have also captured the coastline side of the southern sector that is Raskamboni, Burgavo, Kulbio and Badhaadhe, inching towards the key port town of Kismayo.
Somalia Report sources indicate that today 70-80% of al-Shabaab's army remains in and around Kismayo. The tactic of running away in the face of superior forces began in Mogadishu but the space, movement and support of al Shabaab is being rapidly reduced. AMISOM forces are cleaning up the Afgoye corridor removing a large number of population from al Shabaab control and predation. There have been no mass surrenders but when AMISOM and the TFG moves towards Kismayo, a political move must be made to prevent a bloodbath. The relatively untrained and uncoordinated fighters of al Shabaab are adept at hit and run attacks but cannot hold fixed positions.
As the group loses each city, their income from taxation and checkpoint bribes dwindles. To maintain the economic revenue from the commercial center, port taxes and control over the strategic location the insurgent group will need to keep military control over the port city. Control of Kismayo will also severely impede movement of supplies and fighters.
Despite the history of strategic withdrawal, al-Shabaab claims they are capable of defending the port city, according to two al-Shabaab officials interviewed by Somalia Report.
"We are capable of defending Kismayo and we will also protect our entire country. So long as there are foreign troops in Somalia, we shall not stop fighting," Sheikh Daud Omar in Kismayo told Somalia Report.
A Somali political analyst based in Nairobi, Kenya, Geddi Ismail, told Somalia Report that al-Shabaab's declining power in Somalia was necessitated by a number of factors.
"Al-Shabaab's strict and cruel treatment of innocent locals and the imposition of unreasonably heavy and unnecessary levies, in which low income Somalis can't afford to pay what they earn per day, among other things, are why the people are turning on the group. I don't think there is Somali who is appreciating the existence of al-Shabaab anymore," said Mr. Geddi.
"I really don't think they can defend Kismayo because of their weakening power and their military tactics explains their incapability to go against TFG and their allies,” added Mr. Geddi.
Meanwhile al-Shabaab are accused of forcibly recruiting young children to fight, but Sheikh Omar called the accusation baseless.
"It is true we carried out a mobilization effort for people to participate in the jihad and a good number of them responded to our call, but such false accusations will not make us withdraw our mission,” concluded Sheikh Omar.
Interview with Sheikh Idiris Abu Manzul
Somalia Report recently conducted an interview with Sheikh Idiris Abu Manzul, an al-Shabaab official in Somalia's Lower Jubba, region to discuss their operations and plans for defending Kismayo.
Thank you for giving this exclusive interview to Somalia Report. Can you please briefly tell us about al-Shabaab's recent operations?
Our operation is going on as required and for the last three weeks our operations have intensified and we expect our target is near. Our forces are ready to battle anytime and soon will launch attacks on the KDF and TFG in Lower and Middle Jubba regions.
How senior are you, Sheikh Manzul?
I am in charge of suicides and explosions and have been serving this position for the last three years and have achieved several tangible activities. I give training to the young people who join al-Shabaab and want to be equipped with skills and know how to carry out operations as per required by our policy.
How do you give training to young people?
Our training programs are carried out in many different ways depending on the operation. We are preparing for our Mujahidin to carry out the operation whether it is one based on an explosion in which the person carrying out has to loose his or her life for the sake of the religion of Islam or whether it involves killing the infidels and their pro-infidel militias. These trainings are passed down to the young people in a manner only known to us that I cannot share with you now because it is one of our top secrets.
Who is in charge of al-Shabaab currently?
Sheikh Mukhtar Abu Zubeyr is our top senior officer who is in charge of the entire authority of how we operate. He is a leader who makes decisions in terms of religion.
How many al-Shabaab soldiers currently operate in Lower and Middle Jubba regions of southern Somalia?
It is secret information which I cannot give you because we don’t want our enemy to believe that we are weak, but our Mujahidin are better equipped to face the infidels who invaded our country and religion. We will attack their bases and face them soon, insha Allah.
Why does al-Shabaab recruit women, elders and even young children?
It is incumbent upon every Muslim to participate in the holy war and we don’t force people to go to the frontlines. They came and requested to be trained as Mujahidin. People should defend the religion of Allah.
If KDF and TFG forces capture Kismayo, what will al-Shabaab do?
We believe that they will not even reach Jilib let alone to capture Kismayo and the benevolent almighty Allah is with us and will destroy the enemy. In case the allied group seizes the port city, then we will change our tactics of war and will begin hit and run attacks and suicide attacks, which will wreak havoc on their operations.
Why is Kismayo important to al-Shabaab?
First of all, it is a port city which is located in a strategic region. It is one of our main sources of income since the tax we collect from the port allows us to carry out our activities. We also export charcoal from the port and that gives us huge capital. Our Muslim brothers in Afghanistan and many other Muslim counties are also able to reach us using the sea route and can easily help us with military equipment and also foreign Mujahidins. We will not lose Kismayo since it is our last resort and we will defend it against whatever circumstances we face.
What are the major plans of al-Shabaab?
Our main objectives and plans are many including:
1. To fight tooth and nail in order to defend the religion of Allah and liberate KDF and TFG from both Middle and Lower Jubba regions in southern Somalia
2. After we eliminate the KDF and TFG from southern Somalia, we plan to impose Islamic sheria (sharia) law across the country
3. Retaliatory attacks to regain the regions we lost and will be conducted by brave Mujahiddins who fight for the sake of Allah and will be rewarded in paradise
4. Our plans are to double our efforts to send more intelligent agents and suicider bombers inside Kenya in revenge for their aggression
Can we say al-Shabaab militants are facing stiff challenges as the KDF, TFG, ASWJ and AMISOM vowed to capture Kismayo and flush out al-Shabaab?
No, we cannot say that we are either facing any difficulties nor weakened our power because we even have our brothers who carry out explosions and attacks inside Kenya and our operations will escalate and Kenyans will test the bitterness of the casualties that they will met.
Currently the political deadlock of Somalia is deteriorating and people are waiting for a stable government. What is your comment on that?
First, I would like to tell the traitors and the mercenary politicians that they will suffer irretrievable losses and the puppet government will be overthrown soon by our Mujahidin. Secondly I would encourage the Somali people to continue working with the Mujahidiin and we promise that we will be capture the whole country and will establish an Islamic government.