Reports from the Somalia suggest that fighting on at least three fronts has led to victories for government forces backed by allied militias and troops from Ethiopia and the African Union pushing back Islamist insurgents in the capital and elsewhere.
Wearing military fatigues rather than his usual drab business suits President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed addressed reporters in Mogadishu to claim the al-Qaeda linked militants who have besieged his government since its inception were close to defeat.
“Al-Shabaab is on the verge of collapse,” he said with more than a dash of optimism. He was referring to the Somali rebels who, with the backing of foreign jihadis such as Omar Hammami aka Abu Mansoor al-Amriki, have brought extremist religious fervour and suicide bombings to their insurgency over the last four years.
Ahmed’s claims may be designed to placate the Western donors and United Nations who bankroll his Transitional Federal Government and have watched with dismay its paralysis against Shabaab, despite the presence of 8,000 AU soldiers in Mogadishu.
Analysts say that with the mandate of the TFG due to expire in August the administration is keen to show progress and secure a reprieve.
The fighting has been fiercest in Mogadishu with more than 50 AU troops killed and hundreds injured, although officials will only publicly admit to a dozen or so fatalities. The government now claims to control 70% of the city but it remains to be seen whether such hard-won gains can be held.
Outside the capital the Ahlu Sunna wal Jamaa militia, made up of Sufi fighters and allied to the government, has fought back Shabaab in the south, while in the west witnesses reported seeing troops being trucked in from neighbouring Ethiopia. Ahmed admitted his forces were receiving logistical support from Ethiopia which invaded Somalia to oust an Islamist regime that he himself headed in 2006.
Kenyan police say they have arrested six suspected al-Shabaab fighters who fled across the border and a manhunt is underway for four more. Both Kenya and Ethiopia worry that Somalia’s chaos may spread over their long and porous shared borders. Shabaab-organised suicide bombings in Uganda in July killed more than 70 people in retaliation for Uganda’s contribution of soldiers to the AU force backing the Somali government showing the group’s ability to strike outside its homeland.