Tensions between al-Shabaab and local militias in Somalia’s Middle Shabelle region are nearing the boiling point, something that could jeopardize famine relief efforts in the nearby capital city of Mogadishu.
Fighting is expected to break out soon between al-Shabaab fighters and local clan militias in the Middle Shabelle region of south Somalia, according to Shabelle Media Network on Wednesday. Tensions erupted as the extremist group with ties to al-Qaeda recently demanded one boy or two camels from every family in the famine-ravaged region to buttress its ongoing fight against the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) in Mogadishu. Al-Shabaab has confirmed plans to launch an offensive on TFG controlled territory during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, which begins on August 1st. According to a Somalia Report investigation, over 200 newly trained fighters have already been deployed to the Mogadishu front lines, with as many as 2,000 expected over the month of August. Clans refused to comply with al-Shabaab’s stiff demands on Wednesday, setting the stage for a confrontation just north of Mogadishu.
Violence near the Somali capitol could impact aid efforts to help an estimated 2.8 million of famine victims in the country’s southern regions. The United Nations’ World Food Program (WFP) launched an airlift operation on Wednesday to transport 10 tons of nutritional supplies from Nairobi to Mogadishu. However, on Sunday al-Shabaab placed a hurdle in the path of relief efforts, banning the WFP from operating in territory it controls along with several other aid organizations. The announcement reversed a decision made by the group earlier this month, which lifted an aid ban in place since the previous year. Despite the opposition from al-Shabaab, a number of similar WFP airlifts to Mogadishu are planned for the coming weeks, according to the Associated Press.
The emergence of hostilities between al-Shabaab and clan militias near the Somali capital could jeopardize aid efforts, which have so far centered on Mogadishu and have already been sluggish. This is largely because many Western countries are reluctant to send substantial quantities of funds and supplies to Somalia based on al-Shabaab’s track record of targeting and extorting aid organizations. According to the London Evening Standard, 14 WFP workers have been killed since 2008 and al-Shabaab has strengthened its grip on southern Somalia by demanding huge payoffs from aid organizations.
Most aid operations intended for famine victims in southern Somalia must be shipped by land from Mogadishu and could easily become a target for al-Shabaab fighters during the Ramadan offensive.
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