|Al-Shabaab have raised the black flag of tawheed over the strategic port city of Marka after a surprise offensive against African Union troops|
Shabaab Regains Ground in Southern Somalia
By Bill Roggio and Caleb Weiss
Shabaab, al Qaeda’s official branch in East Africa, has retaken control several towns in southern Somalia after the withdrawal of African Union and government forces.
Shabaab fighters reoccupied Marka, located just 45 miles south of the Somali capital of Mogadishu, today after African Union and Somali troops abandoned the town.
“AMISOM (African Union Mission in Somia) forces moved out at midday and the local administration and all other Somali security forces left a few minutes later – and then heavily armed al-Shabab militants entered the town,” a local resident told The Associated Press. “They have been addressing residents at the district headquarters.”
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Shabaab raised its flag at the town center, addressed a crowd, and began patrols, according to photographs obtained from Shahada News Agency, a jihadist propaganda outfit. According to the AP, Shabaab has occupied the police station and government buildings.
Shabaab lost control of Marka in August 2012 after the Kenyan military invaded southern Somalia in response to Shabaab raids in northern Kenya. While Shabaab lost control of the major population centers in southern Somalia during the Kenyan and African Union offensive, the group maintained its military strength and retreated to rural areas of the country.
They have retaken control over the last month with a vengeance.
Today’s African Union withdrawal from Marka is likely a response to Shabaab’s mid-January assault on an ANISOM base in the town of El Ade. Shabaab fighters from the Saleh al Nabhani Battalion killed scores of Kenyan troops and seized a large quantity of weapons, munitions, and vehicles during the rout. Shabaab claimed it killed more than 100 troops during the El Ade raid and the Kenyan military has been silent on its losses.
Attacks of that magnitude have a demoralizing effect on African Union troops, and the militaries are unable to sustain such losses over time.
Marka is the third large town in southern Somalia to fall to Shabaab in the past two weeks after African Union troops pulled out without warning. On January 26, Shabaab marched into the towns of El Ade and Badhadhe after Kenyan forces withdrew, leaving a security vacuum.