Somali government-led forces have seized al-Shabaab strongholds in the Indian Ocean, the defense minister said Monday. Defense Minister Abdulqadir Mohammed Noor said on state television that the army had captured the port city of Haraldea and the nearby town of Gharqad.
Harardhere was a major base for pirates hijacking merchant ships until 2011. It was later taken over by al-Shabab, which first rose up against the government in 2007 before pledging its allegiance to al-Qaeda. “Haradhere and Galcad districts have been taken from the hands of the al-Shabab terrorists,” Nur said. “This means al-Shabab is overpowered and gone. The remaining towns will also be liberated soon.” Al-Shabab’s spokespeople could not immediately be reached for comment. The government and allied clan militias have forced the rebels from swathes of territory in central Somalia since launching a major offensive last August. The successes have led some officials to claim al-Shabab is on its last legs. However, experts have cautioned that the group has been pushed out of major towns before only to regroup and reclaim areas the army does not have the capacity to hold.
“It’s not the stage of the offensive that counts, it’s everything that follows,” said Omar Mahmoud, senior East Africa analyst at International Crisis Group. “Al Shabaab are definitely under pressure, but they are playing a long game.” The group has responded to military pressure with a series of high-profile attacks, including this month’s car bomb that killed at least 35 people in the capital Mogadishu and other cities. Former army officer Hassan Mohammed said the government should repeat its cooperation with clan-based militias across the country.