Somalia’s militant group al-Shabab has taken control of a southern Somali town near the capital Mogadishu. Both al-Shabab members and Somali residents consider this occupation a blow to the Somali government’s war on terrorism, which could hamper its ability to defeat the militants.
The move occurred after Somali government troops withdrew from the town of Danane, 40 kilometres south of Mogadishu, on Sunday night, March 17th, and relocated to the capital.
In a statement posted on an al-Shabab-run news site, the group said it had retaken Danane after losing it to Somali forces, backed by African Union troops, several months ago.
The government did not make any statement on the troops’ withdrawal, but reports state that soldiers decided to vacate their bases following four months of unpaid salaries, and shortages in their supplies.
Non-payment of salary and wages is common in Somalia and soldiers often go for months without being paid. The government’s inability to pay its soldiers undermines its war against the al-Shabab militants. Some soldiers even resort to desperate measures to make ends meet. These include operating fraudulent checkpoints to extort money from motorists, looting civilian property during operations, and selling their weapons to private gun dealers or sometimes even to al-Shabab themselves.
The lack of salaries is attributed to alleged corruption within the government. In 2017, the US cut military assistance to some Somali military units over graft allegations. The military units could not account for money meant for food and fuel for the army.
President Mohamed Farmajo was elected in February 2017 on a mandate to defeat al-Shabab and strengthen the country’s security forces; he promised to pay soldiers regularly.
Danane is a strategic supply route for the Somali and African Union troops, connecting Mogadishu and the coastal city of Marka. Recently, al-Shabab killed three senior military commanders between Danane and Mogadishu after it hit their convoy with roadside bombs.
Since 2006, al-Shabab, an al-Qaeda-affiliated group in Somalia, has been fighting to overthrow the internationally-backed government in Mogadishu, and wants to implement its own version of a strict Islamic sharia.
In 2011, the group was driven out of Mogadishu but it is still capable of mounting high-profile attacks across Somalia and in neighbouring countries.