Fighting continues for the 3rd day on the row in central Somalia; 30 dead
MOGADISHU, Somalia - At least 30 people have been killed so far in Galmadug following three-day clashes between Somali National Army [SNA] and Ahlu Sunna Wal Jama'a [ASWJ], a Sufi militia that has been helping the government fight against Al-Shabaab for years in the past.
The war started on Saturday after SNA and Galmudug troops stormed Guriel town which has been under the control of ASWJ for the last three weeks. Government forces engaged in a fierce gunfight with the militia, leading to the death of close to 30 people, including army commanders.
The few residents who remained in the city said both sides used heavy artillery, mortars, machine guns, and vehicle-mounted anti-aircraft guns during a fierce battle in the streets. Speaking on the condition of anonymity, military officials from the opposing sides told VOA that both sides suffered fatalities.
Col Abdirisaq Mohamud Yusuf a senior SNA officer, told VOA that the regional commander of Somali's Danab Brigade, Abdiladif Feyfle, was among the dead. Danab or “lightning” brigadiers are U.S.-trained Somali commandos.
“I can confirm that three of our soldiers were killed and more than 10 injured during the fighting," Ahmed Shire Falagle, Galmudug's regional state information minister, told VOA's Somali Service. "I also know that a significant number of Ahlu Sunna Wal Jama’a militia were killed, although I cannot give an exact number.”
Falagle also said government troops ultimately took control of the town and that opposing combatants retreated.
“We have driven the militia out of the town and now they are firing back from the outskirts,” he said.
But witnesses who asked not to be named for fear of reprisal said that government forces managed to hold control of only the police station, the district headquarters, and several ASWJ administrative buildings.
“None of the two sides is in full control [of the town] yet," one witness told VOA. "We can hear heavy gunfire and shelling. The government soldiers are positioned at strategic bases at the heart of the town.”
A moderate Sufi sect, ASWJ previously assisted Somali government troops battling al-Shabab Islamist extremists, temporarily striking a regional power-sharing deal with the Somali government. Saturday’s fighting followed a simmering dispute over ASWJ's representation in local, state, and national government.
Mogadishu has been denying the group's request to have a share in Galmudug, saying its members should peacefully seek power through their respective clans. It also wanted the group's militia to be integrated into national forces.
In February 2020, the group also clashed with SNA leading to massive losses that also so many of its fighters surrender. The group has often insisted that its major agenda is to crush Al-Shabaab militants, who still control large swathes of rural central and southern Somalia.