By Osman Mohamud in Mogadishu
Hundreds of Ethiopian soldiers serving under the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) reached Guriel district in Galgadud region this week in preparation for operations to remove al-Shabaab from El Dher, Galhareri and El Bur districts.
The Ethiopian troops arrived Tuesday (February 11th), Deputy Chairman of Ahlu Sunna wal Jamaa's (ASWJ) Executive Committee Ahmed Abdullahi Mohamud told Sabahi, and they are co-operating with allied forces in the region.
"The plan to oust al-Shabaab from the areas they currently occupy in Galgudud region started with momentum," he said. "The plan is being carried out by two collaborating fronts, the Ethiopian troops from AMISOM and the ASWJ militia. We hope to liberate people living in the territory held by al-Shabaab in the province as soon as possible."
Mohamud said local residents welcomed the Ethiopian troops in Galgudud taking part in the operation with ASWJ.
"This is huge. [The people] cannot wait. Traditional elders, religious scholars, youth and businesspeople -- they call us all the time. They are oppressed in this world and they need to be freed from this oppression," he said. "The public strongly supports the operation that is currently being planned."
Speaking to reporters on February 6th, Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn explained whyEthiopia joined AMISOM and its fight against al-Shabaab.
"We have joined AMISOM forces because this international terrorism has to come to an end," he said. "We have to co-operate with all other AMISOM forces so that we can weaken al-Shabaab and support the legitimate government there in Somalia."
He said he was hopeful that through co-operation with troops from Uganda, Kenya, Burundi and Sierra Leone they would be able to eliminate the militant group throughout Somalia.
Citizens in al-Shabaab-controlled areas 'barely alive'
Omar Ahmed, a 28-year-old shopkeeper in El Bur, said he welcomed the operation.
"We have been waiting for the plan to free us from al-Shabaab for a long time," he told Sabahi. "We are ready to participate in any way to stop or eliminate al-Shabaab. They have mistreated the people. They have not spared us any harm. We are just barely alive."
Ahmed condemned al-Shabaab's behaviour, saying it cannot be described as something based on Islam.
"Al-Shabaab have made themselves known to everyone in the world through their actions of killing the public. They have no other history," he said. "Our religion does not permit killing a human being without cause, regardless of what religion the person practices."
Khadijo Farah, a 38-year-old mother of six from Galhareri, said she fled to Mogadishu with her children in 2012 when she could no longer tolerate the problems al-Shabaab was inflicting on the public.
"When I saw them forcefully recruiting many children, I fled to Mogadishu with all my children," she told Sabahi. "I am now hearing joyful news about the ongoing plan to remove al-Shabaab from Galhareri district. I have missed my home. However, I would like to hear about the specific day our region will be freed for us."
Farah said her neighbours in Galhareri tell her about the human rights violations al-Shabaab inflicts on them.
"[They] tell me al-Shabaab has forcefully recruited some of their children. They have also married many of their daughters by force," she said. "They are a terrorist group that has disrupted all Somalis. I am asking AMISOM troops to create a plan to fight the terrorists."
Ali Jama, a 51-year-old elder in El Bur, said the Ethiopian and ASWJ troops should exercise extreme caution in their operation against al-Shabaab.
"First, I do not think there is anything worse than the problems this community has experienced through al-Shabaab in the years El Bur was under their control," he told Sabahi. "However, I think abundant caution should be exercised when the areas under al-Shabaab's rule are being attacked so that civilian casualties can be minimised. Heavy weapons do not need to be used against al-Shabaab at the present time because the group is weak."