ANALYSIS: The oscillating frontlines in Somalia: In a series of dramatic shifts that epitomize the volatility of Somalia’s ongoing Phase One of the liberation operations, two strategically important locations in the Galgaduud region—Budbud and Osweyne—have alternately fallen under the control of the Somali National Army (SNA) and the Islamist extremist group, al-Shabaab. This sequence of events raises pressing questions about the efficacy of current strategies and the resilience of both warring factions, all the while underscoring the inherent complexities of stabilizing a nation fractured by prolonged civil strife.
Mogadishu, SOMALIA. By the Editorial Team:
On 16 April 2023, the SNA successfully recaptured the town of Budbud from al-Shabaab, bolstering hopes for the government’s capacity to regain control over its territories. These hopes proved to be fleeting, as al-Shabaab swiftly countered with a counter-offensive, reclaiming the town within days. This pattern repeated itself recently. On 22 August, the SNA once again took control of Budbud, only to withdraw and relinquish it on 27 August.
Voices from the ground
A disquieting insight into the situation comes from one of the soldiers stationed in Budbud, who recently told the Somali Digest, “What I can confirm is that the army is disorganized, the defeat in Osweyne put fear into most of the soldiers, the newly trained soldiers are not able to defend against al-Shabaab attacks. I was told in Wabho that the soldiers withdrew, and so we withdrew from Budbud. There are fears that there will be more withdrawals because the army doesn’t get enough air support.” This on-the-ground account paints a vivid picture of the vulnerabilities the SNA faces, providing an unfiltered perspective on the realities of the situation.
This perpetual game of territorial tug-of-war extended to another pivotal location, Osweyne, captured by the SNA on August 22. In contrast to the relatively peaceful turnover in Budbud, Osweyne witnessed an exceedingly violent confrontation a mere four days later. Al-Shabaab subsequently reclaimed the town, seizing an alarming cache of more than 40 vehicles, including armoured carriers.
Understanding the dynamics
The oscillations call into question the underlying dynamics of the conflict. What renders these victories so transient for the Somali government? The soldier’s testimonial, alongside other indicators, suggests issues with the sustainability of military operations. The rapid withdrawal from Budbud points to a deficiency in maintaining a prolonged military presence, perhaps due to limited resources or an already overstretched force.
Furthermore, al-Shabaab’s ability to rapidly reclaim lost territory suggests an adaptive, decentralized organizational structure capable of quick mobilization. This agility allows the extremist group to exploit the government’s limitations, capitalizing on opportunities presented by their opponents’ inability to hold the territory.
The seizure of more than 40 military vehicles in Osweyne marks an unsettling milestone for al-Shabaab. This development raises the spectre of a bolder and increasingly well-equipped insurgency capable of executing more sophisticated operations. As a result, the SNA and its allied forces may need to reevaluate the tactical calculus underpinning their current conflict strategy.
The path forward
For the Somali government, recent experiences in Budbud and Osweyne underscore the imperative for a comprehensive reassessment of military strategy. Quick gains have proven insufficient for ensuring long-term stability; a multi-faceted approach that incorporates military force with initiatives aimed at political reconciliation and economic development is essential.
For policymakers and military strategists, these shifts serve as cautionary tales, highlighting the risks associated with a fragmented, short-term focus and emphasizing the importance of sustainable operations that extend beyond mere territorial gains.
As the ever-shifting battlefront in Somalia continues to evolve, these fleeting victories spotlight the complex and fragile path toward lasting stability. For both the Somali government and the international community, the fluctuating dynamics in Budbud and Osweyne serve as instructive case studies that will, it is hoped, inform more effective, long-term strategies for peace and state-building.