Al-Shabab has recaptured the strategic locations of Ciidciidka and Ali Foldhere (Cali Fooldheere) in the Mahadaay district of Middle Shabelle. The loss of these hard-fought positions not only undermines months of grueling military operations but also exposes the deep-rooted challenges facing the SNA, including corruption, low morale, and the complex interplay of clan dynamics in the region.

The Strategic Importance of Ciidciidka and Ali Foldhere

The towns of Ciidciidka and Ali Foldhere, situated in the forested areas of Mahadaay district, hold immense strategic value in the battle against Al-Shabab in Middle Shabelle. These locations serve as critical checkpoints along the Main Supply Routes (MSRs) connecting Mahadaay to Adan Yabaal, a town liberated by the SNA in late 2022.

The SNA’s control over these routes is essential for maintaining the flow of supplies, reinforcements, and humanitarian aid to the newly liberated areas. By securing Ciidciidka and Ali Foldhere, the SNA aimed to establish a buffer zone against Al-Shabab incursions and to gradually expand its presence in the region.

The Costly Retreat and Its Implications

The SNA’s retreat from Ciidciidka and Ali Foldhere, which were seized from Al-Shabab through bloody battles just months ago, is a significant setback that threatens to undo the hard-fought gains made by the government forces. The dense forests surrounding these locations make them naturally defensible positions, and their recapture by Al-Shabab in Middle Shabelle will likely require months of intense fighting and substantial resources.

The loss of these strategic locations also deals a severe blow to the morale of the SNA, already grappling with widespread corruption and the attrition of its elite units, such as Danab and Gorgor. The recent revelations of corruption within Danab, which led to the suspension of U.S. food rations, have further eroded the soldiers’ trust in their leadership and the government’s commitment to their welfare.

As a result, the prospect of regaining control over Ciidciidka and Ali Foldhere appears increasingly distant, as the SNA struggles to maintain its cohesion and effectiveness in the face of multiple challenges. The longer Al-Shabab maintains its grip on these locations, the more difficult it will be for the government forces to reassert their authority and protect the fragile gains made in Middle Shabelle.

Al-Shabab’s Resurgence in Middle Shabelle

The fall of Ciidciidka and Ali Foldhere is not an isolated incident but rather part of a broader pattern of Al-Shabab’s resurgence in Middle Shabelle. The government forces have also withdrawn from Darul Nim’a, a strategic point on the road to Masagawaa and El Dher, leaving these districts vulnerable to recapture by Al-Shabab, as witnessed in August 2023.

The SNA’s inability to hold onto these key locations in Middle Shabelle underscores the group’s resilience and adaptability in the face of military pressure. Al-Shabab has demonstrated a remarkable ability to exploit the gaps left by the retreating government forces, quickly regrouping and launching counter-offensives to regain lost territory.

Moreover, the group has skillfully navigated the complex clan dynamics in the region, exploiting long-standing rivalries and grievances to its advantage. The recent Xawadle-Abgaal clan wars in Adan Yabaal, which have diverted the attention and resources of the SNA and the new NISA Director General, Abdullahi Sanbalolshe, are a testament to Al-Shabab’s ability to manipulate local conflicts to serve its interests.

Al-Shabab’s ability to navigate and exploit Somalia’s complex clan dynamics has become increasingly apparent in Middle Shabelle. The group has skillfully used the Xawadle-Abgaal rivalry to its advantage, manipulating their grievances and animosities to create a permissive environment for its own resurgence. By stoking the flames of clan conflict, Al-Shabab has effectively diverted the attention and resources of the SNA and the Macawisley clan militias, which had previously collaborated to liberate areas from the group’s control.

Looking Forward

The fact that the Xawadle and Abgaal clans have allowed Al-Shabab to retake areas it had lost to the SNA and Macawisley militias from both clans underscores the depth of their mutual animosity. It appears that their rivalry has taken precedence over their shared interest in defeating Al-Shabab, therefore enabling the group to exploit their divisions and regain a foothold in Middle Shabelle.

This dangerous prioritization of clan conflicts over the fight against terrorism suggests that the Xawadle and Abgaal clans’ enmity towards each other may outweigh their opposition to Al-Shabab. The group’s success in navigating these clan dynamics and using them to its advantage highlights the need for a more nuanced and politically sensitive approach to counter-insurgency operations in Middle Shabelle.

The government and its international partners must recognize that military action alone will not be sufficient to defeat Al-Shabab, as long as the underlying clan tensions and grievances remain unaddressed. Alongside targeted military operations, there must be a concerted effort to engage in peacebuilding, reconciliation, and mediation efforts between the Xawadle and Abgaal clans