Al Shabaab terrorists operating in Somalia have been “defeated as a fighting force” after decades of creating havoc, according to the country’s president.
But President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud has warned that the extremists are an international network with links to al Qaeda and they still have the ability to mount attacks both inside Somalia and abroad.
The president is travelling to England next week to jointly chair an international conference with the British Prime Minister on Somalia’s future.
He will be trying to convince backers like Britain and America that, despite more than two decades of financial support, their help is not only still needed but as crucial as ever.
“Somalia is so close to coming out of the quagmire,” he told Sky News in his only television interview ahead of the conference.
“I say, please bear with us and stretch your patience just a little bit and you will get the kind of Somalia you have been dreaming of for 22 years.”
The president is the first elected leader in more than two decades and is heading up the first permanent government in that time.
He has only been in his job for eight months but with United Nations support there finally seems to be some progress in a country known as being the world’s most fragile state.
International money along with the 18,000 African Union peacekeepers in the country has meant tentative stability in a nation more used to war.
The extremists have mostly been driven out of the capital Mogadishu and the joint Somali and African Union troops continue to take territory once held by the Islamists.
Many Somalis who once fled to safety in exile are now returning from their bolt holes around the world to set up businesses and live once again in their homeland.
There are big efforts to train the newly bolstered national army and police force, and the first permanent government is widely seen as legitimate and progressive.
But the terrorists’ capacity to wreak havoc was demonstrated just a few weeks ago when al Shabaab extremists stormed the capital’s court buildings, firing guns and setting off explosions.
The attack triggered a gunfight between the terrorists and the Somali security forces and at least 20 people were killed.
And over the past few days the capital has been virtually locked down due to fears of another attack.
But there is still a definite feeling of confidence among the Somali forces and the African Union peacekeepers that progress is being made bit by bit.
Colonel Kassim Roble is one of the returning diaspora, lured back to his motherland after becoming convinced Somalia has turned the corner.
He had spent the previous eight years in Leicester before deciding to return home last year.
“Security is getting better every day, every month, every hour,” he told Sky from the newly renovated Ministry of Defence in the capital. “We are in charge of 85% to 90% of the city (of Mogadishu).”
He put much of the change down to a fresh focus by the country’s new president who has insisted funds be used to improve conditions for the troops with better salaries, better food and better training.
“The morale is now very good,” said the colonel.
His words were echoed by peacekeepers from the African Union who are involved in helping secure areas but also mentoring and training the Somali security forces.
“Peace is coming back to Somalia,” one Nigerian commander said. “The people are out on the streets, doing business again. The danger is not so much now. There’s is a lot of difference even since a few months ago.”
But the insecurity is never far away and there are concerns that without international community help, the fragile stability will shatter and be reversed.
“Al Shabaab is an international operation. They are operating inside Somalia but they are part of an international terror network,” the president told Sky News.
“Somalia is just a small country, ill-equipped and ill-trained. Shabaab is defeated as a fighting force. Soon there will be no front line or no place they are in control of.
“But when they are defeated militarily, the way they work is they go into the society – so the suicide bombers and roadside bombings and grenade-throwing will go on for some time.
“But they will be defeated. They are about to be defeated and they are on the run.”
Source: Sky news