June 16, 2012 ·2 Comments
ELASHA BIYAHA (Somalia): Evil laughter pealed out of the mobile phone. Abshir Ali Mohamed, an al-Shabab defector now wearing a Somali military uniform, had asked his former commander to join him. The commander, an al-Shabab judge known for ordering amputations, said he would instead kill Mohamed
Somali military and government leaders say Mohamed’s defection is an example of a trend growing in their favour, with the East African country’s most notorious militant group losing manpower and ground. The 24-year-old former insurgent left al-Shabab less than two weeks
ago and now wears a bright blue patch with a white star — the Somali flag — on the shoulder of his government uniform.
“’Al-Shabab is no longer. It’s going to end soon,” Mohamed said last week at freshly dug Ugandan-Somali military base on the outskirts of Mogadishu. The base was set up after African Union troops kicked militants out of the towns of Elasha Biyaha and Afgoye.
”Al-Shabab is changing sides because of heavy losses. Those who still fight with them are running away in small groups. They’ve lost weapons. They’ve lost personnel,” he continued. More are looking to flee, he said.
Somali government spokesman Abdirahman Omar Osman said Thursday that some 500 al-Shabab fighters have defected to the government side.
”The defections have been increasing day by day since our forces captured Afgoye town. That put huge pressure on them,” Osman said.
The spokesman for the African Union military force said AU commanders are seeing more defections than ever. ”It’s a sign al-Shabab is losing cohesion, losing command and control,” Lt Col Paddy Ankunda said.
Col Kayanja Muhanga is the Ugandan commander in charge of Battle Group 8, the fighting force that cleared al-Shabab out of Afgoye. He estimates his troops killed more than 60 insurgents during the three days of fighting last month, a battle that extended the African Union fighting force’s reach outside of Mogadishu for the first time since their 2007 deployment to Mogadishu.
A commander in that battle, Burundian Lt. Col. Gregory Ndikumazambo, said al-Shabab fights courageously. ”They fight but they’re badly organized,” he said.
The strength of al-Shabab is not precisely known. Mohamed — a four-year veteran of al-Shabab until this month’s defection — estimated that the insurgents have 7,000 to 8,000 fighters. Ankunda put the figure at 4,000 to 6,000. The African Union now has a U.N. mandate to field a force of about 17,000 troops across Somalia.—AP
By goth Mohamed