Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Fall of Leego's AMISOM base – Primer to Al-Shabaab Offensive in South-eastern and Central Somalia.

The Leego tragedy and the subsequent withdrawal of AMISOM and Somali troops from about a dozen towns showcases how an insurgent group could use asymmetric warfare to benumb a stronger but inelastic military into surrendering sections of its territories without a fight.
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Prior to the dawn of Friday, 26th June 2015, a suicide bomber rammed his SVBIED (suicide vehicle-borne improvised explosive device) through the gates of Leego’s AMISOM military base, manned by Burundian troops, before detonating his explosive load within the base. The subsequent raid into the base by al-Shabaab fighters shadowed by the course of ensuing events would ensure that the jihadists scored a victory over the beleaguered AMISOM troops as the initial attack wave confounded the defenders and disorganized their response to a well-planned incursion of jihadists into Leego town. The fall of the base to al-Shabaab would provide the terror group with an important psychological victory over the multinational force as well as equip them with considerable quantity of quality military hardware.
Aftermath of the Assault on AMISOM's Base in Leego.
Less than half a dozen Amniyaat agents would later scour the base for documents relating to AMISOM military operations in Somalia and other pieces of valuable intelligence that could be mined from the smouldering base. Al-Shabaab’s military victory in Leego would also enable them to confidently open a broad front in South-eastern and Central Somalia where AMISOM and SNA (Somali National Army) troops vacated their bases and towns (sometimes without a fight) as the Sunni jihadists advanced. The Leego tragedy and the subsequent withdrawal of AMISOM and Somali troops from about a dozen towns showcases how an insurgent group could use asymmetric warfare to benumb a stronger but inelastic military into surrendering sections of its territories without a fight.
The military base was located along a strategic (logistical) supply line for AMISOM troops based in Mogadishu, Baidoa, and adjacent areas. The fall of the base allowed Al-Shabaab to loot the base’s food store prior to redistributing some of the food to the residents as their daawah unit lectured the civilians on their obligations to support jihad. Within hours, the SNG (Somalia National Government) acknowledged the rout after assessing that the unfolding series of setbacks could not be promptly reversed, and thereafter issued an official statement which condemned the attack as “heinous and unforgivable” and that they applauded “the courage, commitment and sacrifice” of AMISOM soldiers. The attack was also condemned by the UN, US, Germany and Britain among a host of other Western nations.
Bloody Friday.
Despite a string of mischaracterizations by the international and Francophone media, the attack at Leego military base is neither fully part of Bloody Friday nor of Vendredi Noir (Black Friday) which occurred on 26th June 2015 when ISIL (also known as the Islamic State, ISIS or Daesh [its Arabic acronym]) attacked Kobane and massacred civilians, as another lone (ISIL-inspired) jihadist beheaded a civilian in Saint-Quentin Fallavier in France. During bloody Friday, ISIL also bombed a Shia mosque in Kuwait city and killed 27 non-combatants; an event which threatened to rekindle Sunni-Shia sectarian strife in the wealthy Gulf Arab state of Kuwait; while in the coastal resort town of Sousse in Tunisia, a young Tunisian jihadist killed an estimated 39 holiday makers – including 30 British citizens. However, in Leego, Al-Shabaab executed Burundian soldiers alongside government administrators, but there exists no report of al-Shabaab executing civilians during the course of the attack and its immediate aftermath.
Prelude to the Attack.
Leego is a small town - dominated by members of the Hudeer clan - located approximately 140 kilometres northwest of Mogadishu along the strategically important Mogadishu-Baidoa road (which serves as the core logistical lifeline for AMISOM troops stationed in Baidoa, Mogadishu and along the towns inbetween these two important cities). Most notable is the fact that Leego is also just 54 kilometres east of Burkhaba, an al-Shabaab stronghold in Bay region. It is plausible that the Leego attack was planned in Burkhaba and the assault teams assembled there. The assault teams compromised of members drawn from the Istishhad unit, Jabhad forces and a Daawah team, with Amniyaat committing less than a dozen members to the attack. Most of the combatants belonged to the Jabhad forces.
The assorted assault teams numbered about 120 combatants and they assembled themselves under the banner of Sheikh Abu Zubeyr Battalion (named after the deceased former Emir of Al-Shabaab, Mokhtar abu Zubeyr [Real Name: Ahmed Abdi Godane]) and their overall commander was Mohammed Abu Yahya. The attack on Leego was to be prefaced by a series of diversionary attacks that would ensure that the troops in the town were cut off from reinforcements. The IEDs to be used in the assault were assembled and the combatants briefed on their mission hours before the historic assault.
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Sheikh Abu Zubeyr Battalion
Al-Shabaab had previously credited the Sheikh Abu Zubeyr Battalion (a previously unknown and unheard of battalion) with ambushing an Ethiopian convoy and killing an estimated 60 Ethiopian troops (though the actual fatalities seems to be lower judging from the amount of captured small arms and al-Shabaab’s admission that some Ethiopian troops escaped capture unhurt), and capturing a considerable cache of arms and ammunition on Thursday, 11th June 2015. A relief force to aid the ambushed convoy was also ambushed by al-Shabaab. The Sunni terrorist organization would later release the following photos showing the aftermath of the ambush.

An AMISOM truck captured by the Sheikh Abu Zubeyr Battalion.

An AMISOM military truck on fire.

Aftermath of the initial ambush.

A militant from Sheikh Abu Zubeyr Battalion standing on top of a disabled AMISOM APC (Armoured Personnel Carrier).

Captured arms and ammunition lay side by side with a captured AMISOM truck.
Sheikh Abu Zubeyr Battalion displays their spoils of war. Note that about a dozen firearms are displayed indicating that most Ethiopian soldiers fled with their weapons.

Nonetheless, the battalion does not seem to exist as a permanent detached and standalone combat unit but appears to be an assorted assault battalion formed by al-Shabaab fighters belonging to different units after their strategists and military tacticians have identified and earmarked a military resource for an ambush. Likewise, the battalion appears to be manned by hardened guerrilla fighters familiar with the terrain of the area reserved for an ambush.
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The Assault.
In the early hours of 26th June 2015, al-Shabaab attacked AMISOM and SNG military bases located in Janale and Torotoroow towns in Lower Shabelle prior to shelling Balidogle airstrip where the troops had retreated to reorganize. During the process, the Baidoa-Mogadishu road was rendered impassable by the terrorists thus obstructing AMISOM and SNG from sending reinforcement to Lower Shabelle from bases in neighbouring Somali regions. The attack at Janale and Torotoroow baffled the defenders of the towns who at that time misconstrued the attacks as simple hit-and-run ambushes which partially explicates their reluctance to request reinforcements.  When it dawned on them that the simple ambushes were fully-fledged assaults, it was already too late as al-Shabaab was able to gain an upper hand in the battle as the defenders fled the towns while some retreated to Balidogle airstrip thus prompting al-Shabaab to shell the airstrip. Nonetheless, these events allowed al-Shabaab to move and strategically deploy several assault teams to Leego town and at a nearby SNA base without encountering any resistance from the counter-terrorism forces who were fully engaged with countering a series of diversionary assaults.
At 0500hrs (East Africa Time, EAT), an Istishhadi member drove his SVBIED towards the gates of the AMISOM base in Leego. The sentries stationed as night guards at the base opened fire at the approaching SVBIED, but the suicide bomber was still able to ram through the gates and immediately detonated his explosive load (this fact was confirmed by Nur Olow, a Major in the SNA). The initial blast wave of the explosion set fire to the adjacent vehicles before it gave way to a secondary shock wave which rippled across the base and unto the surrounding settlements. The tandem effects of the explosion bewildered the Burundians troops and caused confusion to set in thus impairing a coordinated response to the initial assault wave. Reeling from the shock of the explosion, AMISOM troops opened fire on an assault team made up of dozens of al-Shabaab fighters armed with light machine guns and RPG who were approaching the gates of the base.

An al-Shabaab gunman aims and fires his AK-47 rifles over an embankment towards the defenders.
Moments later, waves of well-armed al-Shabaab fighters numbering about 100 fighters outflanked the base where an estimated 110 soldiers were holding out and preventing the base from falling into the hands of the terrorists. Using a combined force of small arms fire along with heavy machine gunfire and RPGs (Rocket Propelled Grenades), the terrorists were finally able to storm the base.

An al-Shabaab militant fires an explosive warhead into the base using an RPG-7 over an embankment.
An al-Shabaab fighter aims light-machine gunfire over an embankment.
Al-Shabaab militants aim heavy-machine gunfire towards the base using a technical parked a few metres away from the perimeter fence.
An al-Shabaab fighter on top of the embankment firing his AK-47 through the perimeter fence.
At daybreak, al-Shabaab fighters had stormed the base and gained entry into the soldiers living quarters.
The ensuing fire fight saw al-Shabaab fighters blowing up AMISOM vehicles as they gradually outflanked the Burundian troops who were now shooting aimlessly in all directions to avoid being surrounded and besieged. Other soldiers fled the base, while another group retreated into the nearby bushes leaving their comrades behind. Two hours later, al-Shabaab fighters had closed the noose around the base in anticipation of a final blow after gaining significant grounds inside the base after overrunning all its defensive positions. Minutes later, al-Shabaab militants overran the entire base, and in the process, captured dozens of Burundian troops. At this time, AMISOM conceded that its base in Leego was under attack. At almost the same time, al-Shabaab fighters began to execute captured AMISOM soldiers.

Al-Shabaab fighters celebrate after capturing a defensive position previously held by Burundian troops inside the base.
Over half a dozen Burundian troops (obviously startled from the sleep) were executed by Al-Shabaab.

An hour later, the governor of Lower Shabaelle, Abdikadir Mohammed Sidi, confirmed that fighting was on-going in Leego town but declined to give the casualty figures. Two hours later, residents reported that al-Shabaab fighters was setting fire on immobilized vehicles stationed inside the base as the jihadists recovered the bodies of their dead compatriots. Al-Shabaab fighters were also seen retrieving weapons from the base. Inside the base, al-Shabaab militants desecrated and despoiled a makeshift church before setting it alight.

An Al-Shabaab terrorist inside the Makeshift church.
An Al-Shabaab terrorist looking at a despoiled Christian Cross.
Al-Shabaab fighters within the base as smoke rises from a burning AMISOM vehicle at a distance. The residents of Leego can be seen celebrating Al-Shabaab's victory.

Leego town fell into al-Shabaab hands minutes later and its fighters could be seen parading through the streets calling out on people to assemble at a nearby open-air venue to receive “authentic” religious instructions from the mujahedeen muftis. Government employees, administrators and local security officers were abducted, and some executed by the insurgents. Nonetheless, most of the government employees fled upon learning that the town’s AMISOM base was under attack.
Al-Shabaab fighters parade through Leego Town.
Al-Shabaab later stated that over 80 AMISOM troops were killed, with Burundi – through its military spokesman, Colonel Gaspard Baratuza - admitting that 50 of its soldiers were killed during the raid. The most plausible figure of the actual fatalities count is about 70 AMISOM soldiers killed. Mohammed Abu Yahya would later confirm that the base had been overrun by al-Shabaab and its remaining military supplies looted. Abu Yahya officiated the hoisting of al-Shabaab’s war flag at the base as locals paraded through to appreciate the results of the assault prior to being lectured by al-Shabaab on the importance of jihad and Islam. By Midday, al-Shabaab had gained complete control over the military base and the surrounding Leego town with al-Shabaab’s official spokesman, Ali Dheere (Real Name: Ali Mohamoud Raghe) reiterating that Leego is the second Dayniile for the Burundian troops.
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On 20th October 2011, al-Shabaab ambushed and massacred over 90 Burundian troops in Dayniile neighbourhood of Mogadishu prior to parading their bodies before an audience of perturbed Mogadishu residents.
Al-Shabaab fighters parade the bodies of dead AMISOM soldiers from Burundi in Dayniile.
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Ghaneema - Spoils of War.
The attack and the subsequent fall of Leego's military base is the most appalling attack this year, partly due to the fact that Al-Shabaab was able to lay its hands on significant amounts of quality military hardware (most of it brand new) after the Base defenders were defeated while some troops ran and hid in the nearby bushes - some after removing their military uniforms and dressing as civilians. 13 Burundian soldiers would later on be rescued by Somali troops on 27th June 2015 as they blathered “Burundi, Burundi” - while raising their hands - to bemused SNG troops.
On the other hand, it must be noted with great concern that the weapons, ammunitions and the assortment of military hardware captured at Leego have the capacity to change the balance of power within Lower Shabelle region and across South-eastern and Central Somalia in general besides providing al-Shabaab with considerable air defence capabilities that would impair KAF (Kenya Air Force) forays into al-Shabaab-held territories. KAF had previously conducted a number of aerial sorties against the insurgents in Somalia without suffering any significant damage or fatalities. That’s now set to change as Al-Shabaab relocated the captured anti-aircraft guns to Burkhaba town where most senior al-Shabaab leaders presently reside.
Quantities of unused Ammunition captured by al-Shabaab within the base.
Al-Shabaab displays a captured anti-aircraft gun alongside a technical.
Al-Shabaab displays its spoils of war.
Al-Shabaab displays its spoils of war.
Al-Shabaab displays its spoils of war.
Al-Shabaab displays its spoils of war.
Al-Shabaab displays captured Burundian military uniforms.

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