Al-Shabaab Reclaims Key Somalia Port City

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Islamist terror group Al-Shabaab has reclaimed Somali port city Merka, according to residents in the area.

The extremists are said to have taken control of the city without violence after African Union (AU) troops pulled out of the area. The loss of Merka would signal a major step backwards for the AU’s efforts against Al-Shabaab and a huge strategic gain for the Islamist group.

 

AU troops withdraw

The AU has since responded by insisting it remains in control of the city, however, reports from local residents tell a different story.

“The AU troops pulled out of the town and al-Shabaab militants entered and have secured control without fighting,” said Ibrahim Adam, governor of the Lower Shabelle region, who was quoted in the Guardian.

AU troops have recently pulled out of other key areas in the country, including El-Ade where a recent attack killed dozens of Kenyan soldiers. The AU insists these moves are standard military maneuvers and nothing to do with pulling out of targeted areas.

 

Strategic gain for Al-Shabaab

Whatever the nature of Al-Shabaab’s taking Merka, the end result is a significant tactical gain for the militant group. Merka gives Al-Shabaab access to a port once again, which not only represents a major financial boost, but a symbolic victory for them too.

“It’s symbolically important because it was one of the major towns retaken from al-Shabaab and underlines the resilience and longevity of the group,” said regional analyst, Ahmed Soliman, who was also quoted in the Guardian.

The loss of Merka is the latest in a series of losses for international forces in recent weeks. Al-Shabaab has increased its efforts since the turn of the year and 2016 has so far seen the militant group rebuild much of its presence in Somalia, which international forces have fought to extinguish for almost a decade.