Saturday, December 4, 2021

At least 20 killed in battles between Somali troops and moderate Islamist militias

Eyewitnesses and regional officials said at least 20 people were killed and more than 40 wounded on Saturday when a moderate Islamist group clashed with Somali government forces for control of a city in central Somalia.

Clashes began at dawn on Saturday morning when government forces milling around the outskirts of Guri El, a city in central Somalia about 400 kilometers north of the capital Mogadishu, attacked bases held by Ahlu Sunna Wal Jamaa (ASWJ) rebels.

Residents said both sides used heavy artillery, mortars, machine guns and anti-aircraft guns on vehicles during the fierce street fighting.

On condition of anonymity, military representatives of the opposing sides told Voice of America that both sides were killed.

A senior Somali National Security Agency official, Colonel Abdirisak Mohamud Yusuf, told VOA that Somali brigade regional commander Danab Abdiladif Feifle was among the dead.

Danab or “lightning” brigadiers are Somali commandos trained in the United States.

“I can confirm that three of our soldiers were killed and more than 10 were injured in the fighting,” Ahmed Shir Falagl, Galmudug’s regional minister of state for information, told Voice of America Somalia. “I also know that a significant number of Ahlu Sunna Wal Jam” were killed by the militia, although I cannot give the exact number. “

Falagle also said that government forces eventually took control of the city and that the opposing combatants retreated.

“We drove the militias out of the city and now they are returning fire from the outskirts,” he said.

But witnesses, who asked not to be named for fear of reprisals, said government forces were able to keep only the police station, the district headquarters, and several administrative buildings of the ASWJ under control.

“Neither side has complete control over [of the town] nevertheless, one of the witnesses told Voice of America. “We hear heavy gunfire and shelling. Government soldiers are stationed at strategic bases in the city center. “

VOA phone calls to several ASWJ officials went unanswered.

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A moderate Sufi sect, the ASWJ, previously assisted Somali government forces in the fight against Islamist extremists Al-Shabab, temporarily entering into a regional power-sharing agreement with the Somali government. Saturday’s fighting followed a heated debate over ASWJ representation in local, state and national governments.

Mogadishu rejects the group’s request for power as an Islamic entity, arguing that its members must peacefully seek power through their respective clans. He also wanted the group’s militia to be integrated into the national forces.

Last February, Somali forces captured cities previously under the control of the ASWJ, including Guri El.

Earlier this month, an Islamist group took control of Guri-El without resistance after forcing Somali government forces to withdraw.

At that time, in an interview with the Somali Voice of America, the head of the group, Sheikh Shakir, said that he wanted to take control of cities and regions in order to better protect them from the extremists of Al-Shabab.

Since then, tensions have escalated as government forces began building up military reinforcements near the city.

The UN said on Thursday that more than 100,000 people have been displaced to Guri El due to the military build-up.

Attempts to reconcile differences between local elders and regional leaders were unsuccessful, leading to a bloody battle on Saturday.

The fighting began two days after the Somali president and prime minister said they had struck a deal to accelerate the country’s long-delayed electoral process and end the simmering feud that threatened to plunge the Horn of Africa into another crisis.

The two men were stumped by appointments and layoffs at the highest levels of the security service, triggered by the mysterious disappearance of a Somali spy who had long been declared dead by the country’s National Intelligence and Security Agency.

Experts warn that continued political instability and renewed hostilities with a moderate Islamist group could benefit Al-Shabab.

Abdivahid Moalim Isak provided this report from Galkayo. This story originated in the Voice of America Somali service.

Nation World News Desk
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