Wednesday, February 23, 2011 0 comments

The big catch for peace in Somalia.

By Guled Mohamed

Mogadishu, February 23 – AMISOM peacekeepers from Burundi and Somali government forces have jointly captured three strategic locations in northwestern Mogadishu in a major operation that has startled Al-Shabaab in the latest of many losses for the anti-peace elements in the going battles for the control of the troubled capital city of Somalia.

The joint operation swiftly carried out early on Wednesday morning resulted in the capture of the imposing former Defence headquarters building locally known as Gashaandiga, a former milk factory and the former Senior Officer club also known as Shirkole Officiale. The imposing former Defence headquarters building served as the main Al-Shabaab operational and logistical hub where they planned their inhuman attacks.

“Government troops supported by AU Peacekeepers have this morning captured tactical headquarters of the extremist insurgents. Troops from AMISOM’s Burundi contingent helped Somali National Forces take the former Ministry of Defence (Gaashaandhigga), which the extremists have been using as a logistical and operational base. They also captured the former Milk Factory and the Military Officers Club (Shirkole Officiale) in a major advance in the northwestern part of the city,” said a statement from the Somalia Ministry of Information.

The three strategic positions are located in Hodan district along the main road used by Al-Shabaab from their main Daynile base further in the northwest of the capital Mogadishu. The Defence headquarters is located on a hill top directly overlooking the city of Mogadishu and which made it easy for the extremist to hull mortars towards the densely populated areas of the sea side city controlled by the government with help from African Union peacekeepers from Uganda and Burundi.

Shirkole Officiale is directly adjacent to the expansive Bakara market which is another hideout for the extremist known to use the population as a human shield in their bloody quest to unnecessarily shed more blood in an unholy war that is opposed by majority of the people in Mogadishu where more civilians than combatants die in the almost daily deadly gun duels.

“Today’s operation is meant to create more security and space for the peace-loving population of Mogadishu. The 3 captured locations are very strategic spots and a major loss for the extremists. The joint operation encountered minimal resistances by the extremists just like recent successes AMISOM and the government has had in Wardhigley district where we exposed huge tunnels dug by the opposition forces and where they lost many fighters including 6 foreign militants,” AMISOM Spokesman Major Ba-Hoku Barigye said.

Speaking from the captured positions Colonel Floribert Biyereke, the Burundi Contingent Public Information Officer said the extremists were still firing from a distance towards the Somali-Burundian forces in a futile attempt to unsettle the victorious joint forces.

“As you can hear there is still fighting going on as the insurgents are firing towards our newest locations we have jointly captured with Somali forces and which are Gashandiga, milk factory and Shirkole officiale. We are now strengthening our defenses and we will not be deterred by their desperate attempts to unsettle us. Our expansion is always for the good of the afflicted Somali population because whichever locations AMISOM occupies we normally open a hospital and also shares our little food and water with the suffering population. The operation was a success and we wish to thank our Somali brothers for their continued support,” Colonel Biyereke said as sounds of bullets and heavy explosion reverberated in the background.

The latest military success by the government and peacekeepers from Burundi has been welcomed by the war-weary residents of Mogadishu many of who have been forced by the ongoing battles to flee their homes in their tens of thousands and to live in squalid camps across the bullet-pocked city.

“This is a big catch for peace in Mogadishu and Somalia. I am so happy to hear that government forces and AMISOM peacekeepers have taken over Gashaandiga, Shirkole officiale and the former milk factory. This is really good news for us because it means these areas will be peaceful and my clients can now access my shop. Peace is what we always yearn for and I wish to urge our troops and our friends from AMISOM to kick out these bloodletting Al-Shabab extremists who have no intention to bring peace but only chaos and death to our people,” shopkeeper Salah Ali said whose shop is located in Hodan district close to the captured locations.

Nostalgic memories of Burundian officers trained in Somalia

By Guled Mohamed

Bujumbura, February 14 - In April 1974, a military plane landed in Mogadishu's main airport flying in 15 junior Burundian officers arriving for a two year pilot and aero technician’s course offered by the once powerful Somali air force.

Speaking for the first time in thirty five years since their memorable training in the sea side city, the now retired Burundian officers showed remorse in the current turmoil in Somalia and in particular the capital Mogadishu where they were trained as pilots by Somali air force personnel.

The 15 officers were transformed into 12 pilots and 3 aero mechanics after a two year long training that ended in June 1976 at a time when Somalia was a mighty African military superpower in the height of General Mohamed Siyad Bare’s scientific socialist Somalia.

Retired Colonel Emmanuel Bankimbaga and Charles Ntakije are among the 10 surviving officers from the original 15 Burundian officers trained by the now dysfunctional Somali air force. The two were trained as pilots together with 10 others making them the first biggest number of pilots to be trained for Burundi by any nation. Before their training the small country had only 3 pilots trained in France and Egypt.

The 15 officers distinctively served their country Burundi in various capacities to the ranks of colonels and held senior public positions as technocrats and chief of staffs. There is even a former Interior Minister amongst them.

The Burundian officers we were trained at a military installation called Afsiyoni near Mogadishu airport from April 1974 to June 1976. The airport they landed at 35 years ago is now secured by the African Union peacekeepers that includes close to 4000 Burundian peacekeepers who are in Somalia as part of AMISOM which is helping the once great nation attain peace following two decades of war that has left the country in ruins.

"The training was excellent and it was conducted by Somali officers who worked with us with a lot of professionalism until we became pilots. I wish to congratulate the Somali government on this 51st commemoration day of its air force and wish that what they lost during the war and conflict they are going to recover and build another stronger and better air force," retired Colonel Emmanuel Bankimbaga said in Bujumbura recently a day before the 51st Somali Air Force day was commemorated on 15 February.

Asked what he remembers of Mogadishu, Emmanuel painted a very lively city whose residents were very hospitable. He says they used to go for evening coffee at the Café National restaurant in downtown Mogadishu before hitting the various nightspots Mogadishu offered many of which were located along the beautiful shore of the Indian Ocean.

"The most memorable things I still remember about Mogadishu were the coffee shops, discothèques and restaurants. I had so many friends and the people were really nice. What really caught me was how nationalistic the Somalis were. They were no clan differences and everyone was a Somali," he said with a smile.

His compatriot retired Colonel Charles Ntakije who once served as Burundi's Interior minister still remembers when in 1975 he read a speech in Somali language that he wrote on behalf of the Burundi team to mark Somali air force day.

He says Mogadishu was a paradise and that they spent many lovely evenings with civilian and military friends. His best friend was a Somali artist called Matan who owned a studio and who used to claim to be Jesus whenever he was drunk.

"On Friday’s, our Somali friends used to call us and say in Somali: Caawa waa Jimce, Jazeera club ma aadeynaa? Meaning, it’s Friday night, are we going to Jazeera club? Mogadishu was the place to be then. We spoke Somali and I could even write. In fact I wrote my speech in Somali which I presented in February 1975 to mark Somali Air Force day. Life was really good then in Mogadishu," Ntakije said with a grin.

The officers said they met President Siad Barre on numerous occasions at his residence in Afisiyoni air force headquarters where they were being trained. During there time in Somalia they managed to visit Kismayu, Baidoa and Galkaayo which they oftenly flew into as part of their training to fly military planes.

"We used to play basketball with the Somali air force team. President Siad Barre used to come and watch the games. He would freely mingle with the players and we spoke to him about our country as well as the training. He told me once if you have any problem please came straight to me. Of course we had no complaints because we were treated really well," Emmanuel added.

Emmanuel got an opportunity to welcome Barre and his entourage in Bujumbura when the former Somali leader visited Burundi for a French-African cooperation meeting in the early 80's. Emmanuel was nominated President's Barre head of security.

"When President Siyad Barre came to Bujumbura in 1984 I was nominated to head his security detail and his guide. He stayed at this same Souse de Nile hotel you are now staying which was then called The Meridian hotel. After the meetings I used to sit and drink coffee with him. He did not see me an as his bodyguard but as friend. It was good for me to host him back in my country," Emmanuel said.

After there first year in Somalia the government flew home the Burundian contingent on a military plane for the 1974 Christmas break and again brought them back to Mogadishu for their last year of training. Colonel Ntakije says he has but good memories of Somalia and was really saddened to see the country collapse in 1991.

"We are now retired and each one of us is pursuing his own private businesses. If Somalia needs our experience we will be very happy to offer any technical assistance. We are able for example to help restructure the army because that is what we can easily do for Somalia because without security the country cannot properly function. It is so sad to hear the city has been destroyed. I believe the Somalis will one day rise and restore their dignity, “ Ntakije said.

Just to prove to you the duo spend some good time in Somalia they can easily recite the famous socialist oriented song meant to praise President Siyad Barre. As a Somali born in Kenya I had no clue of the song until I heard it from the Burundians.

“Guul wadow Siyaad aabihi garashada geygayagow hantiwadagu waa habka barwaaqada noo horseeday…meaning Victorious Siyad our knowledgeable father our land socialism is the system that brought us prosperity,” The former Burundian Officers separately recited the song to the end for the first time in 35 years much to my own amazement at their sharp memory.

After his interview, Charles shouted to me before driving away “Soomaaliya hanoolato,” to mean Somalia, live longer which is a very common slogan Somalis say whenever get patriotic!

Fighting and dining with the enemy.

By Guled Mohamed

February 22 – Mohamed Ibrahim rose from an ordinary Al-Shabab fighter to a field commander within 2 years which saw him spend days and nights in the jungles and abandoned buildings across Somalia fighting, living and dining alongside wanted foreign terrorists including two of the current Al-Qaeda chiefs in Somalia.

Mohamed who goes around by his nickname Suley meaning missing a thumb in Somali because he burnt one of his thumbs learning to plant remote controlled roadside bombs in Mogadishu says he has been living and fighting along the likes of Abu Mansuur Al-Amriki better known as Omar Hammami from the US town of Daphne in Alabama who is the Deputy Al-Qaeda commander in Somalia and Fadhil Mohamed Abdallah, the top man for the global jihadists in Somalia who hails from Comoros.

During his four years stint as an Al-Shabab fighter which he recently decamped after being shot from close range by a foreign Arab fighter in one of the many frontlines in Somalia for questioning a gruesome murder of his elder civilian brother in Kismayu whose throat was slit by an Al-Shabab hit squad on suspicion of spying for his clansmen fighting to oust the extremists from the southern Somali port city of Kismayu.

In the recent past, he says the going has been tough for the revered group with imminent fallout within its top leadership over their cruelty towards civilian populations. The group has made a name out of chopping off limbs of suspect thugs and assassinations of innocent people who refuse to join them as well as other more callous acts like slitting throats of suspected spies.

Receiving a paltry $60 per month as salary with 10 days of leave every month, Ibrahim gave a chilling account of his association with a group he now believes have nothing to do with Islam.

“I was a field commander in charge of 90 young men in Bondere frontline. My men included Somalis, young Kenyan non-Somalis and Eritrean. Al-Amriki, the American Al-Qaeda 2nd in Command in Somalia is always in the frontline visiting Al-Shabaab fighters. I have fought and dined and spend days and nights with him together with so many other foreign fighters. The top commander Fadhil from Comoros never visits the frontlines. He lives in the livestock market in Mogadishu and I have also seen him so many times,” Ibrahim said.

He survived death by a whisker from the close range bullet intended to permanently silence him for voicing a concern over his brother’s death. That is when he realized he was along fighting and dining with the enemy.

“The bullet pierced through my left bicep travelling just under the skin across my back before popping out from the right shoulder. When they slit my brother’s throat and nearly killed me in cold blood I realized I was in the wrong place and planned my escape. All this time I was dining and fighting with an enemy I never knew. Since my escape I have helped 20 fighters decamp from Al-Shabaab and I hope to help many more because the heaven they promise people is a lie. There is no jihad in Somalia, it is a fallacy” Mohamed said pointing at the healed bullet wound on his back.

He secretly hatched an escape plan together with four of his colleagues. On December 16 their plot succeeded when they finally defected to the government after the President and the Prime Minister gave a 100 day amnesty to Al-Shabaab fighters who would switch sides.

“I planned my escape for 4 months. It was very difficult because I knew as soon as Al-Shabaab finds out I was a dead man. It was 4 months of fear. I am lucky my status as a field commander helped me to easily escape. The atrocities I have witnessed in my 4 years with Al-Shabaab are so gruesome giving me all the reason to leave,” he added.

And to make things even easier for his final escape, he saw first hand how wounded accomplices were dealt with by foreign fighters who call the shots within Al-Shabaab.

“Al-Shabaab has become so ruthless that it even kills its soldiers who are seriously wounded in the many battles in Mogadishu. They shoot them because they have no enough hospitals or money to treat them. What pains me most is seeing very young boys brainwashed to fight and then abandoned or killed when they are seriously hurt. Joining Al-Shabaab is easy but getting out is impossible. I thank God I left and will never ever take part in any of their un-Islamic activities again,” He said looking relaxed.