MOGADISHU, Somalia – In yet another breathtaking interview, a top Al-Shabaab commander has insisted the group is still “very strong” and determined to “take over” the country from the current leadership, arguing that “they have failed to show direction” to the people.
For over a decade, the Al-Qaida group which controls large swathes of rural central and southern Somalia has been struggling with the fragile UN-backed Somalia administration, which has struggled to stamp authority in the Horn of Africa nation.
Mahad Karate, the deputy leader of Al-Shabaab who also controls the group’s Intelligence wing known as Amniyat, told Channel 4 News’ Jamal Osman that “we are not yet done and cannot be intimidated”. This was one of the open interviews by the commander in as many months.
Although it’s not clear where their interview was conducted, the surrounding suggests that it could be on a riverside on the outskirts of Jilib town located in Middle Jubba. The town, believed to be impenetrable, has been the capital of the group for years.
The Al-Shabaab commander dismissed Somalia’s government as “weak and inconsequential” and vowed to mobilize “liberation ” soldiers to topple it. He also warned the “foreign troops” against “killing” civilians in the struggling Horn of Africa nation.
When he took over last week as 10th president of the federal republic of Somalia, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud insisted that “my first task is to work with stakeholders to defeat Al-Shabaab”. The new president accused the group of extorting local farmers, some of who have since moved to IDP camps.
The president’s announcement came shortly after Pentagon confirmed the redeployment of troops to Somalia as part of President Joe Biden’s counterterrorism approach. The US is expected to deploy close to 500 soldiers, over a year after the troops were repositioned by the Donald Trump administration.
Pentagon said, “our sole aim in Somalia is to support Somali National Army and the African Union Transition Mission by training and equipping them”. The role of US soldiers in Somalia has often been questioned due to casualties emanating from their frequent airstrikes.
Fundamentally, the US Africa Command is critical in training and equipping the Danab Special Forces, a contingent within the Somali National Army. The Danab troops with aerial assistance from the US troops have been instrumental in downing Al-Shabaab militants
Mahad Karate, the senior financial coordinator, has been on US radar for years now, with US troops missing him through airstrikes just like current leader Ahmed Diriye. The US placed a $5 million bounty on his head but efforts to trace him have been futile for a while.
A report published by the United Nations revealed that the Al-Shabaab operatives with a budget of almost $100 million annually, most extortion from local businesses and foreign donations. Of this sum, close to $24 million is set aside for purchasing sophisticated weapons.
The group has persistently targeted security forces, government officials, and civilians within Somalia and across the borders. Kenya, which is one of the African Union Transition Mission [ATMIS] troops contributing nations, is one of the most affected countries by Al-Shabaab raids.
Last month, the militants attacked El-Baraf Forward Operating Base which is manned by Burundian troops, killing over 30 soldiers. The US promised the new administration that it will closely work with native troops to ensure Al-Shabaab is significantly degraded.
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