Somali, African troops recapture key port from Shebab
African Union's soldiers patrol in the area where a suicide bomber from Somalia's Shebab insurgents killed at least 12 people in September. AFP PhotoSomali troops backed by African peacekeepers on Oct. 5 recaptured the last major port in Somalia held by the Shebab, removing a key source of revenue for the Islamist militia, officials told AFP.
"The army is in full control" of the port of Barawe, 200 kilometres southwest of Mogadishu, a Somali military official, Abdi Mire, said.
"The situation is calm, and the militiamen had fled before the forces reached the town," said provincial governor Abdukadir Mohamed Nur. "They could not put up resistance and have emptied their positions."
The Shebab, Al-Qaeda's main affiliate in Africa, exported charcoal through Barawe to Gulf countries, earning at least $25 million (19 million euros) a year from the trade according to UN estimates.
"What is very significant is that the 'capital' of the Shebab has fallen," a specialist on Somalia told AFP, requesting anonymity.
The loss of the port comes a month after the Shebab's supreme leader Ahmed Abdi Godane was killed in a US drone and aircraft strike.
The Shebab have vowed to avenge his death and continue their fight to topple the country's internationally backed government.
On Saturday, a Shebab commander, Mohamed Abu Abdallah, vowed that the militia would maintain pressure on Somali and AU forces even if the militia lost Barawe.
"Let me assure you that we will never leave around Barawe, the fighting will continue and we will turn the town into graveyards of the enemy," he said, quoted by a pro-Shebab website.
The strike against Godane came days after the AU and Somali troops launched a major offensive, "Operation Indian Ocean", against the insurgents on several fronts.
The 22,000-strong AMISOM force, with soldiers drawn from six nations, have been fighting alongside government troops against the Shebab since 2007.
Losing Barawe and Godane in the space of a month constitutes "two major blows" to the Shebab, even more crippling than the military turnaround in 2011 that saw AMISOM and Somali forces take back Mogadishu, the analyst said.
"What other major city do they have left? They have nothing left," he said.
The Islamists continue to control vast swathes of rural Somalia as well as major transport routes connecting the government-held towns, from where they regularly stage guerrilla raids and attacks on government targets.