TSD Feature 22 June 2023
On Wednesday, 21 June 2023, Turkish-trained ‘Gor-Gor’(Eagle) commandos distributed water to drought-impacted families in villages around the town of Galcad in the Ceel Dheer District of Galguduud Region, located approximately 260 km north of the capital Mogadishu . However, while an important ‘hearts-and-minds’ operation, the Somali National Army (SNA) has continued to struggle to fully secure the town and its neighboring villages.
The settlement and surrounding area were liberated in mid-January 2023 as part of an offensive against al-Shabaab that was first launched in August 2022. This ongoing operation was launched in response to the failure of previous efforts to militarily weal the local al-Qaeda affiliate and strengthen the negotiating position of the Federal Government vis a vis the militant group; an objective confirmed by President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud who said his administration would attempt talks “in the right time”.
However, its liberation along with the former pirate-hub of Harardhere (Somali: Xarardheere) in neighboring Mudug Region, the SNA and its allies have faced persistent attacks by al-Shabaab insurgents. These attacks began immediately after militants retreated from Galcad without firing a shot and have been launched using hideouts in un-liberated rural areas as well as un-liberated villages near areas around Caad and Bacaadweyne; which are inhabited by members of the Haber Gedir and Dir clans.
These attacks began the day after the liberation of Galcad when on 20 January 2023, two suicide vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (SVBIED; suicide car bombs) where used to open the way for an infantry assault on the town by over 100 al-Shabaab insurgents. The battle resulted in the loss of 25 soldiers including Danab Deputy Commander Major Hassan Mohamed Osman (Hassan Tuure). The next day an improvised explosive device (IED) targeted a military vehicle traveling near Galcad, resulting in the death of another three soldiers.
Despite the support of ‘Macawisley’ clan-based militia forces, including members drawn from among Abgaal sub-clans, the SNA has struggled to secure Galcad and its surrounding villages. Fighting has often been fierce in Ceel Dheer District and the neighboring districts of Harardhere, Adan Yabaal, and Ceel Bur. Likewise, efforts to liberate territory in other areas has also proven difficult such as when US airstrikes were needed to help dislodge al-Shabaab insurgents from the village of Shabeelow in Hobyo District, Mudug Region, on 21 February 2023.
A major part of this challenge has been the adaptability and resilience of al-Shabaab. This has included the increasing adoption of night-time raids as well as the use of IEDs and both vehicle borne IEDs (VBIEDs) and SVBIEDs. Targets of these insurgent operations have included villages and other strategic locations along the Main Supply Routes (MSR) used by the SNA in Adan Yabaal, Hobyo and Balcad districts; an example of this was the overrunning of an SNA military base located at Hilowle Gaab village on 6 January 2023. These operations not only cause casualties and allow al-Shabaab to secure supplies of weapons, ammunition and other military supplies, but also force the SNA to overextend its forces in an effort to secure settlements and its own supply lines.
Despite these difficulties, the SNA and allied clan-based militia forces continue to launch operations around Galcad and its surrounding villages. Most recently, this included an operation on 15 June that resulted in the death of three insurgents, as well as the recovery of three-AK-47 rifles. This was followed several days later by an operation to clear the forested area north-east of the settlement; although no further information was provided regarding its success. However, al-Shabaab continues to retain an active presence both inside and around Galcad. On 20 June, insurgents killed at least 3 civilians and wounded over 20 others when they targeted them using improvised explosive devices.
The struggle of the SNA to secure Galcad and its neighboring villages is symbolic of the fact that the offensive against al-Shabaab in Galguduud, Middle Shabele, Hiiraan and Mudug regions has stalled and will require a fresh injection of military forces and resources to eliminate al-Shabaab. It also requires political cooptation of local elites and localized reconciliation between the different sub-clans.
The SNA is planning to send new units to help in pacifying the region. It remains to be seen whether these fresh forces will have any effect and tide the war in the region. If the past is any indication of what to expect in the future, the end of the war in this region is not in sight.
 Mohamed Hussein Gaas and Stig Jarle Hansen, “Ending ‘Forever War’ in Somalia,” Raad Policy Brief 2 (2022), https://africacenter.org/security-article/ending-forever-war-in-somalia-negotiating-with-al-shabaab/