The U.S. ambassador to Somalia said the Somali government's military operations against al-Shabab have cost the militants one third of their territory.
'Somali-led offensives have restored Somalia's sovereignty to 1/3 of the territory formerly misruled by al-Shabaab,' Larry Andre told VOA Somali in an email. 'Ending al-Shabab's oppression is one step further toward Somalia's full revival.'
Since January, the United States donated weapons to the Somali national forces to support operations against al-Shabab. The U.S. also trains an elite Somali army unit known as Danab, which means 'lightning' and has been leading the offensive against al-Shabab.
Somali Leaders Agree to Increase Troop Numbers
The Somali government this week reported that the military operations have inflicted heavy losses on the militant group during the past six months.
In a statement on March 25, Ministry of Information said that 3,000 al-Shabab militants were killed and 3,700 more were injured in the first phase of military operations between August of last year and January. The government also said 70 towns and villages have been liberated from al-Shabab.
Meanwhile, the militant group has claimed that the first phase of military operations by the Somali government and local fighters has failed.
In an interview with al-Shabab-affiliated radio, the militant group's spokesman, Ali Mohamoud Rage, who is also known as Ali Dhere, accused the U.S. of mobilizing forces against the group.
He said the original plan was to eliminate al-Shabab within six months.
'The first phase of the operation concocted by the infidels has turned futile,' he said.
Officials Warn Against Underestimating Al-Shabab and IS in Somalia
Contacted by VOA about the remarks by the al-Shabab spokesman, a senior Somali security official dismissed Ali Dhere's claims.
The 'definition of failure has to be revisited if liberating Middle Shabelle, Hiran, South Mudug and parts of Galgadud is a failure,' said Kamal Dahir Hassan Gutale, national security adviser to Prime Minister Hamza Abdi Barre.
The 'Somali people and their government made possible all those successes reached by our security forces in a very short time,' he said.
Gutale said Ali Dhere's claim that the U.S. mobilized the Somali military offensive is baseless.
'He is facing young Somali soldiers who are well-trained, battle-hardened, who took the battle towards the front lines,' he said. 'Let him face them - they have liberated over 500 KMs from al-Shabab, and still they are after him.'
Somali Government Forces 'Repulse' Al-Shabab Attack, Official Says
Government officials said the second phase of military operations will start during Ramadan. But preparations for the second phase have faced criticism before it officially launches.
Abdullahi Mohamed Ali Sanbalolshe, the former director of the National Intelligence and Security Agency, says preparations for the second offensive focus more on the role of the government and less on the participation of local fighters who have been integral to the relative success of the first phase.
Sanbalolshe told VOA the local fighters have a low awareness about the new offensive. He alleges that the government is lowering the importance of the clans, locals and states.
'All Somalis were interested and were part of the first one [offensive] - the members of the parliament, clan elders, business community, the civil society, the diaspora,' he said.
'The participation of the clans [in the 2nd offensive] is low; it appears it's confined to the government,' he said.
Al-Shabab Bombing Targets Regional Officials
Defense Minister Abdulkadir Mohamed Nur has rejected the criticism that the government is not valuing the role of the locals.
'This fight belongs to the Somali people, and it is true that the successes were achieved with the collaboration of the people,' he said.
'Every area that is going to be liberated, its people will be consulted with and informed.'
Nur said most of the locals do not need the government to inform them about military offensives because they approach and ask for support.
Mohamed Abdurahman contributed to this report.