As Ethiopian forces press their offensive in Somalia, Shabaab rebels relinquished control of Baidoa, a key southern city that had been under their control for three years. Eyewitnesses told the BBC that about 50 vehicles, including some 20 tanks, had entered Baidoa, which was apparently abandoned by the Shabaab. After the port of Kismayo, the town was the Shabaab’s most important base. Since the city changed hands, scattered IED attacks have been reported near former Shabaab bases. Shabaab’s Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab said: “Baidoa will be a cemetery for the Ethiopians.”
The transfer of the city comes as the UN Security Council voted to increase the African Union force in Somalia from 12,000 to 17,731. Somalia is now a patchwork of territorial zones controlled by armed factions. South of autonomous Puntland and de facto independent Somaliland, the biggest swath of the country remains under Shabaab control. The “official” transitional government, backed up by AU troops, shakily controls Mogadishu, surrounded by Shabaab territory on all sides but the seafront. The “official” government also claims the loyalty of a belt of territory north of the Shabaab zone and south of Puntland. Ethiopia‘s troops and proxy militias control a large potion of the border zone, especially along the Juba and Shabelle rivers. Kenya has similarly grabbed a chunk of land along its border.
The Shabaab still control major towns and cities along the coast between Kismayo and Mogadishu, including Jilib, Baraawe, and Merca. The Shabaab recently held public celebrations in these towns after announcing its official merger with al-Qaeda on Feb. 9. One day later, Shabaab’s affiliate in Kenya, the Muslim Youth Center, also said it has joined “al-Qaeda East Africa.” (Garowe Online, Feb. 23; Long War Journal, BBC News, Feb. 23)
See our last post on the Horn of Africa