The withdrawal of Ethiopian troops from towns and districts they seized from militants in the new offensive has baffled their AU military counterparts who at one time watched the development taciturnly until one AU official decried the move, terming the troops as ‘non-AMISOM’ soldiers.
Col. Abdirahman Abdi Dhimbil, AMISOM’s Sector 4 Contingent Commander who spoke to the Voice of America Somali service on Monday expressed surprise at the mysterious withdrawals by Ethiopian troops, saying they ‘Ethiopians’ take orders from Addis Ababa instead of the AMISOM command which they operate under its banner.
“We are waiting for the answer towards this from the Somali government – They are not parts of AMISOM.” Mr. Dhimbil said of the Ethiopian troops who have been integrated into the African Union force in Somalia last year.
He said his Djiboutian troops would recapture the towns abandoned by Ethiopian troops who he said have let the residents down. Elders in the areas abandoned by troops said the abrupt pull back by Ethiopian troops has dashed hopes of security for their towns as some residents fear militants’ backlash as result of their favorable reception for troops who seized it last week.
On Monday, residents in Halgan town reported that Al-Shabab fighters have arrested dozens of residents after reclaiming the district’s control over suspicions that they welcomed the abandoned troops.
Halgan district is on a major highway that runs all the way from the regional capital Beledweyne to Buloburte, the second largest town in the agricultural Hiran region where security forces are trying to connect roads and town blockaded by Al-Shabab fighters.
No comments could be reached from Ethiopian officials on the allegations.
However, col. Dhimbil said that Ethiopian troops have retreated from Halgan, Nur-Fanah, Bo’o, Buqaqable, El-Ali, Buqgosar, an extensive ground that may give the Al-shabab’s shrinking stronghold a breathing space for the group to launch larger attack on troops in the fertile Hiran region.
African Union officials haven’t commented on the development which raises questions troops’ earnestness of liberating the horn of Africa nation from the militants who continue deadly attacks across the country.
Al-Shabab aims to maintain its grip on the rural areas in Somalia after abandoning most of their key strongholds without putting resistance against troops who launched a multi-pronged offensive in Somalia.
The development means Al-Shabab fighters has effective control over strings of villages between Beledweyne and Buloburte, a corridor that could give the group a larger area to launch attacks to disrupt the ongoing offensive against it and consolidate their power bases in south and central Somalia.