Somali troops with the support of the Ethiopian army have seized key areas in Bay, government officials in southern Somalia announced yesterday, after months of operations centered on the town of Bardale.
The still ongoing campaign, described as "a cleanup operation," led to the recent capture of Iskoris, Morowarabe, and Walaq villages, according to Bardale mayor Mohamed Isaq Arro As.
Shabaab fighters escaped in the night as an overwhelming number of troops supported by tanks marched into the area without meeting any resistance.
According to AMISOM spokesman Colonel Ali Adan Humad, AMISOM and Somali troops are in final preparation for offensives against Shabaab in southern and central Somalia.
Shabaab fighters controlled much of Bay region for three years between 2009 and 2012, until Ethiopian forces pushed them out. The increased operations in the area began after Shabaab set up roadblocks on Oct. 19 in an attempt to punish regions in which it had lost control. Shabaab told locals that it "did not want any food to be taken to the people, who are living with infidels," alluding to the Somali and Ethiopian troops in the area. Earlier this month, on Dec. 13, Somali and Ethiopian troops cleared the roadblocks when hundreds of troops marched on the region, causing Shabaab militants to flee.
On Dec. 19, clashes took place in the district of Uforow, where according to eyewitnesses at least two people were killed and at least three Shabaab fighters were wounded in a firefight with government forces. No civilians are thought to have been harmed in the fighting, although Shabaab still controls the Bay region districts of Uforow and Dinsor as well as parts of Bardale.
Bardale was the location of "Ambush at Bardale," one of the most well-known videos featuring Omar Hammami, which was released by the group in March 2009 and documented Hammami and other Shabaab militants preparing for and executing an ambush on Ethiopian troops. The recruitment video also included an appeal from another English speaker to would-be jihadists to join the fight in Somalia, and was later determined to feature Somali-Americans, including Shirwa Ahmed.
Despite a military offensive led by the African Union and backed by the US that began in 2011, Shabaab still controls vast areas of southern and central Somalia. During the offensive, Shabaab was driven from major cities and towns such as Mogadishu, Kismayo, and Baidoa, but towns such as Bulobarde and Barawe remain under the terror group's control. The group has weathered the Ethiopian invasion, which began in December 2006 and ousted its predecessor, the Islamic Courts Union. More than six years later, Shabaab remains a capable force in southern Somalia and an integral part of al Qaeda's global network.