TFG Soldiers Receiving Salaries - File Photo
Transitional Federal Government (TFG) forces late Saturday and early Sunday deserted the strategic western Gedo town of Busar, about 45 kms east of Kenyan border town of Elwak, after a serious rift broke out in the leadership of the TFG over troop and militia payments.
Local residents confirmed that a large number of al-Shabaab retook the town shortly after the TFG forces and local militias vacated the area without a fight.
“On Saturday evening we saw the TFG troops moving to the Celwaq side and hours later al-shabaab fighters entered the village,” a Busar resident told Somalia Report.
Reliable sources contacted by Somalia Report said the disputes resulted in the militias from Garre tribe, one of the largest in the offensive, to vacate frontline positions where al-Shabaab insurgents are in dug less than 600 meters away.
“We are heading back to a village near Elwak. We can't defend the insurgents alone as a clan. Since the Garre militias left the area, we should also leave,” said a Marehan tribal leader with troops in the offensive.
This was confirmed by Omar Mohamed, a local resident, who spoke to our correspondent, "Pro-government officials who were forced out of the village are now stationed near El-wak town."
He added that the fighters have taken up positions in and around the villages, which strategically lie around the main road that connects to Gedo region include El-wak.
Disputes Over Salaries
One TFG official, who requested anonymity, said the rift began to heat up late this week when Garre clansmen, mainly the inhabitants of Elwak, complained of the TFG's management of their salaries.
“It is not a matter of clanism, it is an issue that deals with payment,” said Adan Ibro, an official from the defected militias.
Adan alleged that payments due to the TFG soldiers and militias were stolen by corrupt officials. ”How is it possible that officials loot money for the army? As agreed, every soldier should get his salary monthly,” he complained.
Sources close to the defected soldiers claim that Garre clansmen have been suspicious of their Marehan counterparts in the offensive, as part of a long standing tribal rivalry between the two tribes.
“Everybody was expecting that Garre and Marehan could leave their differences aside and approach their enemy as a united front, but apparently each had different plans for future," ex-army colonel Abdi Issak told Somalia Report.
Abdi believes that the decision to pull out from the frontline amid disputes was correct as al-Shabaab may have paralyze TFG strength in the area. “It is an appropriate decision at this time because al-Shabaab has massed hundreds of fighters while TFG forces in the area are not capable of fighting them without unity.”
The TFG Gedo governor whom Somalia Report contacted refused to comment about the rift.
Abdi Issak says due to salary delays, bankruptcy, and clan diversions, al-Shabaab can benefit from the rift. “Yes, this is the best time for al-Shabaab. They normally send proposals to TFG soldiers at times like this, giving fake promises such as good salary, al-Shabaab regional posts and good accommodations for then and their families.”
Offensive critics say pro-TFG militias in the towns of Dhobley, Diff and Elwak lack a unified strategy over where and what to do after they progress in the offensive because they are made up of of various rival clans whose differences never get resolved.
Hassan Omar, a regional conflict specials in Mogadishu, says until such differences are sorted out the offensive will have limited effect. "We have an enemy which is fierce, which has zero tribal backgrounds. We have to expect that dismantling such a power needs an opponent which is unified,” said Hassan Omar.
Residents Fear Reprisals
The residents of Busar are worried that al-shabaab may take action against them for openly supporting the TFG troops that seized the village three weeks ago.
“We are fearing consequences coming from al-shabaab because we loyally welcomed government troops,” said one of the elders in Busar who spoke to Somalia Report on the condition of anonymity for security reasons.
Most of the village youth have fled from Busar by foot last night, fearing they might be forcibly recruited by the militants.
He added that the fighters have taken positions in and around the villages, which strategically lie around the main road that connects to entire Gedo region include El-wak.
Pro-government force of Ahul-Sunnah Wal-Jamaa backed by Ethiopian is in control of Luuq, 80 km from the Ethiopian border, and Elwaq, a border line town close to Busar.