Somali’s president vowed Wednesday that his administration will eradicate the terrorist militant group al-Shabab across Somalia within two years, and he offered its leaders peace talks.
Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, better known as Farmajo, was speaking at a ceremony marking the 57th anniversary of the foundation of the Somali National Army, which was held at the compound of the Ministry of Defense in Mogadishu.
“We confirm to the Somali people that we are prepared and within two years’ period we will eradicate al-Shabab from all areas they are present in Somalia,” the president said.
He said that, after more than a decade of the insurgency, al-Shabab still is not capable of overthrowing the Somali government. Mohamed says his government, therefore, is calling on al-Shabab leaders to engage in peace talks before they are forcibly dislodged from their hideouts across the country.
“We are ready to talk to al-Shabab, including its leaders. We say to the leadership of al-Shabab that you have been fighting for more than 10 years and still you cannot overthrow the government, which has international support and military power.
We tell you if you do not accept peace, we will come to you at your hideouts,” Mohamed said. “You cannot destroy the government, but you have been destroying the hope of the Somali people.”
Mohamed’s remarks come a week after he declared that the country is at war with al-Shabab, and he gave the group 60 days to surrender in return for education and jobs. He also replaced the country’s military and intelligence chiefs, while instructing the army to prepare a new offensive against al-Shabab extremists.
In response to the president’s declaration of war with al-Shabab, the militants have increased their attacks in Mogadishu, the country’s capital.
In one of the attacks on Sunday, the new Commander of the Somali National Army (SNA), Gen. Mohamed Ahmed Jimale, escaped a car bomb explosion close to the Defense Ministry where Wednesday’s army anniversary commemoration was held.
On Monday, a suicide bomber wearing an explosive vest penetrated a fortified Somali National Army base in the city, killing at least five soldiers.
Government critics say publicly declaring war will only help the militants by inspiring them to carry out additional attacks aimed at disrupting any ongoing military plan against them.
“I think it is not a good decision to declare a war in public while you are still in preparation. You see, the militants are carrying out attacks because they are either desperate or want to disrupt any plans of a military move against them,” said Mohamed Omar Dalha, a member of Somali parliament.
“Whenever the militants feel there is a military threat against them, or when the country is in transition from one government to another, they carry out such excessive attacks to take advantage of the situation and, most importantly, to send a message that they are still capable of harm,” said Dahir Amin Jesow, a Somali lawmaker.
Abdirashid Hashi, director of Mogadishu-based research group Heritage Institute for Policy Studies (HIPS), said the group has always been at war and serious about their insurgence.
“Somali governments come and go, and it takes them time to adjust, but al-Shabab has been in serous insurgency for 10 years, so they have been always ready to attack in opportunistic way,” said Hashi.
With the help of the international community, and technical and training support from the United States, Somalia has put together a Somali national army of more than 20,000 troops. They are poorly equipped, however, and lack regular salaries.
The Somali government depends on the 22,126-strong force operating under the African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia.
This month marks 10 years since the AU Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) started. The mission is set to withdraw from Somalia by 2020.
Despite inflicting military setbacks and territory loss upon al-Shabab, the militants continue to create chaos in the country, as fears grow that al-Shabab and Islamic State are too much for the country to handle.
Axadle International Monitoring – Africa
Sahra Ahmed contributed this report.