MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) — Enough was enough. For 13 years, extremists with al-Qaida’s East Africa affiliate had controlled Mohamud Adow’s village in central Somalia, imposing harsh ideology and arresting local teachers and traditional leaders.
Then, word came that Somali forces in a surprising national offensive had expelled the fighters from nearby villages.
A small group of residents sneaked out one night in August to meet with Somali troop commanders and invited them into their village of Rage-El. The 80-year-old Adow was among those taking up arms, joining a local militia fighting alongside Somali forces in rural battles with battered guns.
“The people were living in agony,” said Adow, one of several witnesses interviewed by The Associated Press.
In what is being called “total war” by the government of President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud’s that was elected in May, Adow and others across the Horn of Africa nation are being encouraged to stand up to the al-Shabab extremists who have long embedded in Somali society, exploiting clan divisions and extorting millions of dollars a year from businesses and farmers in their quest to impose an Islamic caliphate.
On Thursday, Somalia’s government announced a “people’s uprising” as it seeks to pressure al-Shabab from all angles, including financial ones.
It’s being described as the most significant offensive against the al-Shabab extremist group in more than a decade. And this time, Somali fighters are in the lead, backed by U.S. and African Union forces.
Al-Shabab’s thousands of fighters have held back the nation’s recovery from decades of conflict by carrying out brazen attacks in the capital, Mogadishu, and elsewhere. Over the years, countries from Turkey to China to those in the European Union have invested in military training and other…