Mogadishu, Somalia - Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud said Somali army troops and a local militia dubbed the Community Defense Forces took the town of Adan Yabal from al-Shabab without a fight.
The town, in the Middle Shabelle region, had been a base for the Islamist group since 2016. Somali people used to be summoned to the town and harassed, but Mohamud said al-Shabab vacated it and they did not try to resist the takeover.
Security analysts say the capture of Adan Yabal was not only a victory for the Somali government, but confirmed that the collaboration between government forces and clan militia is working.
Matt Bryden, chairman of Sahan Research, a security and policy think tank focusing on the Horn of Africa, said seizing the town was key.
'The capture of Adan Yabab by government forces and allied militias is extremely important. In part, because it's such a strategic location and has been an important al-Shabab stronghold for over five years,' he said. 'But also, because it demonstrates that the combination of government forces, the special forces, the SNA and Ma'awisley, or Community Defense Forces, is working not just in Hiiraan region, it's working in Middle Shabelle.'
Somali government, alongside the self-styled Ma'awisley militia, launched the military campaign against al-Shabab in July in Galgadud region before opening another front in the Middle Shabelle region about a month later.
Bryden said the capture of territories from al-Shabab has emboldened Somalis and the international community that the al-Qaida-linked militant group can be defeated.
However, he warned the ultimate victory against the group is the ability to sustainably hold recovered territories and establish local administrations.
'There are very legitimate concerns about the government's ability to hold on to the territory that it is recovering from al-Shabab for a number of reasons that require a collective effort if they're going to be overcome,' Bryden said. 'But the bigger problem is that it seems that the operational tempo militarily is getting ahead of the planning and of force generation, and that is that there are insufficient holding forces to take these territories after the clearing forces have secured them.'
Samira Gaid, a regional security analyst, shared similar views, noting that al-Shabab has been able to take back recovered towns in the past.
'There is, of course, the fear that the government might not be able to hold it. This is not the first time that Adan Yabal has been recovered. It was recovered in 2016 by AMISOM and SNA forces. This time it is SNA-led forces that have captured the city together with Ma'awisley forces. So, we are hoping this time it will be different. The challenge has been that the government has not planned for holding forces,' Gaid said.
Al-Shabab pulled out from Adan Yabal about two days before Somali forces arrived in the area. This strategy, Gaid said, could be a move by al-Shabab to save its resources for other battles.
'The strategy by al-Shabab to withdraw from this city is quite different from what it has done in other towns in Hiiraan and in Middle Shabelle and in Galgadud, where it has faced Ma'awisley forces,' Gaid said. 'This is the first few instances that we are seeing them withdrawing without really facing the Somali forces. So, it is interesting, it seems to me different from previous times it is conserving its energies.'
President Mohamud said Tuesday that other regional governments, such as Jubaland and South West state, were on course to open up other fronts against al-Shabab.
The Somali government is also targeting al-Shabab finances and said last month it had closed 13 bank accounts affiliated with the group. The government also has mounted ideological warfare against al-Shabab and has sought the support of clerics to counter extremist narratives.