By William Tucker
Somali residents of Kismayo have reported to several media outlets that al-Shabaab militants are leaving the southern port city. Kismayo is known as the last al-Shabaab stronghold in Somalia. In response to the reports, the Somali military has made public statements about an impending assault on the city, while al-Shabaab is denying that they have left. Residents in the city have said that some militants remain, however government buildings have been abandoned. Furthermore, there are reports that the militants are heading northwest to the city of Jilib to reorganize. Al-Shabaab does employ insurgent and terrorist tactics and it is conceivable that some of the militants have melted away into the local population in the face of overwhelming force. Naturally, the Somali military is concerned about this possibility and has made statements to the Kismayo public regarding that possibility.
The pressure from the AU and Somali forces, along with their international backers, have applied a significant amount of pressure to al-Shabaab over the last year. Areas that were once firmly under militant control have slowly fallen to the AU backed government forces. This doesn’t mean that al-Shabaab is a spent force – their recent attempt to assassinate the new Somali president is just one such example – but the denying of safe havens goes a long way towards implementing a functioning government in Somalia. Truth be told, we have seen this before. Any celebration over this achievement would not only be premature, but ill-advised as well. Instead, the impending move by the new government to take control of Kismayo is just one small step in instituting control over a nation that has been in chaos for far too long.