Just when the Somali government thought it has emerged victorious over the jihadists with the capture of a strategic coastal town, the Islamist Shebab militants stormed a military base north of the Somali capital on Tuesday in a deadly attack.
Conflicting figures have been put forward by different sources on the number of soldiers killed in the attack on the Hawadley military camp, located about 60 kilometers north of Mogadishu.
Speaking on national radio, army chief Odowaa Yusuf Rage said five soldiers, including an officer, "died as martyrs" in the attack.
A commander of a militia allied to the government near Hawadley, contacted by AFP, said 11 soldiers were dead.
"The jihadists first blew up a vehicle loaded with explosives and then attacked a military camp in Hawadley," said this commander, Mohamed Osman, reached by phone.
The attack was claimed by the Shebab, an al-Qaeda affiliated group.
The Hawadley base was retaken from the shebab in October 2022 by government forces and clan militias allied in the fight against the jihadists.
On Monday, the Somali army recaptured Harardhere, a port city considered "strategic" by the authorities located about 500 km north of the capital, which has been controlled by the shebab since 2010. The government said the recapture was a "historic victory".
The Shebab have been fighting the internationally-backed federal government since 2007. Driven out of the country's main cities in 2011-2012, they remain firmly entrenched in vast rural areas.
President Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud, who returned to power in May 2022, has promised an "all-out war" against the Islamist group, and recently referred to its members as "bedbugs.
In September, the president sent the army - including special forces - to support local militias, known as "macawisley", who have rebelled against the shebab.
This offensive, supported by the African Union force in Somalia (Atmis) and U.S. airstrikes, recaptured large areas of two central states, Hirshabelle and Galmudug.
- Retaliation -
Notably, the government claimed in early December to have retaken Adan Yabal, an iconic Hirshabelle locality held by the shebab since 2016 and touted as a "training ground" and logistical hub for insurgents in the region.
But the shebab continue to carry out bloody retaliatory attacks, underscoring their ability to strike at the heart of Somali cities and military installations.
Nineteen people were killed in two car bombs in the central town of Mahas in early January.
On October 29, two car bombs exploded in Mogadishu, killing 121 people and injuring 333 others in the deadliest attack in five years in the Horn of Africa country, which is also suffering from a historic drought.
A triple attack in the central city of Beledweyne, capital of Hiran province, killed 30 people, including local officials, in early October. At least 21 guests at a Mogadishu hotel were killed in August in a spectacular 30-hour assault.
The president announced that new contingents of Somali soldiers, trained in Eritrea, would soon be deployed in anti-shebab operations.