Somalia: Hassan Sheikh’s Close Encounter with Al-Shabaab’s Infamous Territory

Somalia: Hassan Sheikh's Close Encounter With Al-shabaab's Infamous Territory

Somalia: The Near Miss of President Hassan Sheikh in Al-Shabaab-controlled Territory

In a surprising turn of events, the Somali National Army (SNA) made an uncoordinated withdrawal from multiple frontlines, nearly leading President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud into unfamiliar territory. New details have emerged, indicating that disciplinary actions may be taken against certain soldiers involved.

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President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud announced on Tuesday that several soldiers have been summoned to face trial by the court martial due to their unauthorized decision to abandon the frontlines. The government has admitted to “mistakes” in the planning for Cowsweyne, including failing to secure supply routes for the troops. It is believed that al-Shabab militants surrounding the soldiers immediately after their entry into the village on August 22 resulted in the deaths of several soldiers.

While the troops had made progress in Elbur, El Dheer, Masagaway, Budbud, and Gal’ad, they ultimately abandoned these towns, leaving civilians and even senior government officials, including the president, in danger. However, it was the retreat from Gal’ad that particularly concerned the government. Investigation by the Voice of America revealed that on the afternoon of August 28, President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, wearing military fatigues, was preparing to visit Gal’ad without knowledge that his soldiers were already in the process of vacating the town.

Fortunately, National Intelligence Security Agency (NISA) Director Mahad Salad and military court chief Colonel Hassan Ali Nur Shute intervened and convinced the president to cancel his trip. They offered to address the military and persuade them to return to the frontlines. On the same day, a United Nations helicopter carrying approximately 17 individuals departed from Dhusamareb, where the president had established a temporary base to monitor operations, to Gal’ad. It was only during the flight that it became apparent that the soldiers had abandoned Gal’ad.

Frantic phone calls and text messages were sent to the helicopter, warning them to turn back immediately. The warning reached the passengers as the helicopter was descending. One text message from a staffer at the presidential palace stated, “Don’t land. The town has been abandoned. Come back.” Consequently, the pilot was forced to abort the landing and return to Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, emphasizing the risk the team would have faced. It remains unclear why the military commanders failed to communicate the withdrawal in a timely manner.

“We were flying low enough where small arms fire could have brought down the helicopter,” recounted one passenger. At 6:55 p.m., al-Shabab announced on Telegram that their fighters had retaken Gal’ad.

President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud has indicated that those who shirked their duties and jeopardized the security of senior government officials, including himself, may face a military court trial. The names of the implicated officials have yet to be disclosed. “Those who did not desert the frontlines and those who fled in the face of the enemy and went to Xamar [Mogadishu] or sold their weapons on the way, you will not be treated the same,” he sternly addressed the soldiers outside the front-line town of Mahaas. “They were arrested for their crime, and they will be tried by the military tribunal in accordance with the military code and discipline.”

As the government adjusts its tactics, officials stress that they are not underestimating the threat posed by al-Shabab. While the group has launched significant attacks in central and southern Somalia, notable progress has been made. “We do not underestimate the strength of our enemy,” affirmed Petroleum and Natural Resources Minister Abdirizak Omar Mohamed, who formerly served as the internal security minister and is currently accompanying the president in Mahaas to mobilize his constituency. “Al-Shabab is not the weaker party here. They are a resilient and adaptable organization. However, we believe that with public support and the mobilization of local communities, the Somali government will prevail in this war against al-Shabab.”

President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud has proven himself to be a dedicated mobilizer in the fight against Al-Shabaab. During his recent trip to Mahas, he revealed that he has been receiving death threats. Nevertheless, the president affirmed that his commitment to the cause remains unwavering.

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