The BBC map above would tend to suggest they’re not exactly out of the woods. The rest of the country is no safer from the jihadists, or from the full imposition of Sharia law.
In the short term, the withdrawal is certainly good news for the aid groups al-Shabaab detests as “Crusaders,” who are trying desperately to hurry aid to famine zones where al-Shabaab is content to let Somalis die, albeit pure from “Christian” influence.
And of course, for all of the areas that al-Shabaab controls, there officially is no famine according to the group. Parched earth? Emaciated children? Cattle skeletons dotting the landscape? Your lyin’ eyes have been hijacked by the Crusader conspiracy. The one hope for the internationally recognized government in Mogadishu may be to rally citizens’ support to end this deadly exercise in absurdity, if they can.
“Somali government declares Islamist rebellion defeated,” by Mohamed Ahmed and Ibrahim Mohamed for Reuters, August 6:
MOGADISHU (Reuters) – Somali President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed said on Saturday his military had defeated Islamist rebels battling to overthrow his Western-backed government after the al Shabaab group began withdrawing fighters from the capital Mogadishu.
Rejecting Ahmed’s claim to have quashed al Shabaab’s four-year insurgency, the militants’ spokesman, Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage, said their retreat was tactical only and they were holding their positions elsewhere in the anarchic country.
A 9,000-strong African peacekeeping force and Somali government forces had been steadily wresting control of rubble-strewn Mogadishu from the militants this year. Al Shabaab’s pullout followed a string of fierce gun battles late on Friday.
Somalia has been without effective central government since the fall of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre 20 years ago.
Al Shabaab’s retreat from the Somali capital Mogadishu signals an acceptance it cannot militarily defeat a government propped up by foreign muscle and firepower, but raises the specter of an escalation in al Qaeda-inspired raids.
Winning Mogadishu might expand the government’s prison capital a little, but it is unlikely to bring any tangible peace to the rest of the Horn of Africa country.
“It was not the strength of al Shabaab that kept them in Mogadishu for so long, it was the incompetence and weakness of the (Somali government),” said Afyare Elmi, a professor at Qatar University’s International Affairs department.
“I’m worried the (government) may not be able to step into the vacated areas and other clan militia step in. The challenge … is to expand into these areas and install law and order.”
President Ahmed urged those who had fled their homes not to rush back to the city neighborhoods now empty of militants until they had been cleared of explosives. The government said the rebels had retreated as far as 100 km (62 miles) from the capital.
“The Somali government welcomes the success attained by the Somali government forces backed by AMISOM who defeated the enemy of al Shabaab,” Ahmed told a news conference at his residence.
Al Shabaab has never previously entirely left Mogadishu, raising questions over whether deep rifts among the al Qaeda-affiliated group’s senior commanders had finally led to a split.
One faction prefers a more nationalist Somali agenda and wants to impose a harsh Islamic programme on the nation. Another more international wing aims to promote Jihad (holy war) and is bent on overthrowing a government they see as a Western stooge as well as forging closer ties with regional al Qaeda cells.
Either agenda follows the fundamental aim of jihad: to impose Islamic law. It’s just a question of emphasis.