Somalia Military Operation Faces Challenges with Troop Withdrawal
On Wednesday, August 30, 2023, it was reported that Somali government forces had retreated from several towns and villages that they had previously captured. This retreat came in response to a deadly attack by the al-Shabab militant group on a newly captured base in the village of Cowsweyne.
According to unnamed Somali government officials, the retreat included the towns of El Dheer, Masagaway, Gal’ad, and Budbud. Major Ismail Abdimalik, a Somali government commander, confirmed the retreat but did not disclose the specific towns. He referred to them as “small strategic retreats” and defended the move.
The retreat followed a devastating attack by al-Shabab on Somali government forces in Cowsweyne, where the troops had recently expelled the militant group. Although Somali government officials have not provided detailed information about the attack, multiple security sources claim that the two brigades involved in the capture suffered heavy casualties. An al-Shabab official deemed the attack a “historic victory.”
Al-Shabab’s claim of “overrunning” the base, killing 178 soldiers, and capturing prisoners has not been independently verified. The group boasted about seizing a large quantity of weapons that they can use in future battles.
The attack on Cowsweyne involved car bombs followed by armed militants engaging in gun battles with government forces. While the Somali National News Agency stated that government forces repelled the attack and destroyed the car bombs, a video released by al-Shabab shows multiple dead bodies in the base.
Despite the retreat, Somali government forces are still in control of the town of Elbur, which they captured recently. Elbur is located deep inside al-Shabab territory and was one of the main targets of the government offensive. The troops preparing to capture the second main target, Galhareri, were the same ones attacked in Cowsweyne. However, Major Abdimalik assured that Elbur is secure and that the army is ready to defend it.
A foreign diplomat based in Mogadishu believes that the military offensive will continue despite the setback. The President of Somalia, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, has been leading the push into al-Shabab territory and has expressed determination to remove the group within five months.
Al-Shabab militants have been resorting to guerrilla tactics by withdrawing from towns and retreating into the bush. Their goal is to engage in a prolonged conflict.