The anticipated military offensive by the Somali National Armed Forces (SNAF) and the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) to recover Al Shabaab controlled areas in southern and central Somalia has begun. The operation is expected to directly affect scores of districts and regions in southern and central Somalia.
- In Bakool, SNAF/AMISOM forces started moving to key towns including Rab Dhuure, Xudur and Waajid around 5 March. The majority of main towns in Bakool have reportedly been taken by SNAF/AMISOM forces with the exception of Tayeeglow and surrounding villages. Reportedly, Al Shabaab moved back to Rab Dhuure two days after it was taken when SNAF/AMISOM troops left the village for Waajid. Further details are unknown at this stage
- In Gedo, Ethiopian-led AMISOM troops moved south along the Juba River, having reclaimed Buur Dhuubo.
- In Lower Shabelle, SNAF/AMISOM troops moved towards Qoryooley en route to Baraawe. Some locations on the way were reportedly vacated without resistance.
- In Galgaduud, SNAF/AMISOM forces moved to Dhuusamarreeb on 10 March according to reports by local authorities in Guri Ceel and Dhuusamarreeb. The increased movement of forces to Dhuusamarreeb confirms that the offensive is underway. Civilians have continued to move out of the considered hot spots. Numbers are not yet known.
- In Hiraan, reports indicate that Al Shabaab engaged in a hit-and-run attack on 10 March on SNAF/AMISOM forces in the outskirts of Belet Weyne town. Al Shabaab leaders are reportedly mobilizing communities within their strongholds against the military operation.
It is estimated that 3 million people live in the districts and regions, which may be directly affected by the military operation. While the situation remains fluid, an estimated 6,000 people have arrived in Baidoa in Bay region, the main recipient location so far.
According to an inter-agency assessment on 5 March in Baidoa, 1,700 displaced people had arrived from Diinsoor in Bay and Xudur in Bakool in February. The movements were mostly preemptive and people moved due to fear of attacks. By 12 March, an additional 4,300 displaced people, mainly from Waajid and Xudur in Bakool, were reported to have arrived in Baidoa. People have also been reported to have been displaced in the nearby towns of Xudur, Waajid, and Tayeeglow, but numbers are not confirmed. Those arriving in Baidoa said that threats by Al Shabaab were prime motives for moving.
According to the District Commissioner of Xudur and a local NGO, about 700 families were moving behind SNAF/AMISOM convoys as they made their way from Ceel Barde to Xudur. It is reported that many of these families were original inhabitants of Xudur, who fled prior to the Ethiopian National Defense Force’s withdrawal from Xudur in March 2013, and took the current offensive as an opportunity to return.
Humanitarian response and coordination:
The newly displaced people in Baidoa started receiving shelter and household items on 11 March, with 650 families receiving supplies according to the Shelter Cluster focal point in Baidoa. Another 350 household kits are to be distributed by 13 March. Shelter, water, food and health services remain the immediate needs for the displaced in Baidoa and those fleeing towns in Bakool region to surrounding villages, as well as those returning to liberated towns in Bakool, according to humanitarian partners.
Humanitarian access due to the volatile security situation remains a major challenge. Humanitarian partners are working to determine urgent needs, mapping supplies in the various hubs and how to best respond. All humanitarian assistance is based on assessed needs and is guided by the humanitarian principles of: humanity, neutrality, impartiality and operational independence. It is hoped that if the military operation leads to the establishment of proper administrative structures in the newly controlled areas, it may provide an opportunity for humanitarian organizations to have a safe and predictable access to people in need in those areas.
Advocacy focused on ensuring compliance to international humanitarian law, human rights law and other applicable standards is ongoing with SNAF/AMISOM, based on the draft of the Somalia Humanitarian Country Team guidelines for provision of humanitarian assistance and protection of civilians in the context of armed conflict.