Qandala campaign

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Qandala campaign
Part of the War in Somalia
Islamic State capture Qandala.png
An ISS fighter hoists his group's flag over Qandala on the same building where Somali folk hero Ali Fahiye Gedi was imprisoned during the colonial era.
Date 26 October – 18 December 2016[1]
(1 month, 3 weeks and 1 day)
Location Qandala, Somalia
Result Tactical Puntland victory; major ISS propaganda success[2]
Islamic State in Somalia (ISS)  Puntland
Commanders and leaders
Sheikh Abdul Qadir Mumin[3]
(leader of ISS)
Mahad Maoallim[4]
(ISS senior commander)
Puntland Shire Haji Farah[4]
(Minister of Planning and International Relations)
Puntland Yusuf Mohamed Dhedo[5]
(Bari region governor)
Puntland Admiral Abdirizak Dirie Farah[1]
(Puntland Maritime Police commander)
Units involved

Puntland Puntland Security Force

Clan militias[4]
Unknown[a] Puntland "Hundreds" of fighters,[8] several gunboats[6]
Casualties and losses
30 killed, 35 wounded,[4] several captured[9] (government claim) 3+ wounded[5]
25,700+ displaced[10]

The Qandala campaign began when the Islamic State in Somalia (ISS) attacked and captured the major town of Qandala in Puntland on 26 October 2016. This takeover resulted in the displacement of over 25,700 civilians and an eventual counter-offensive by the Puntland Security Force, which succeeded in driving ISS from Qandala on 7 December, and thereafter government units continued to attack the militants' hideouts in the nearby mountains until 18 December. The fall of Qandala marked the second time that an Islamic State-affiliated group had captured a town in Somalia, but whereas the first takeover had lasted only for a very short time,[11] ISS had managed to hold Qandala, a town of both major strategic as well as symbolic importance, for over a month.[2]


When Abdul Qadir Mumin broke away from Al-Shabaab and declared allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in 2015, only about 20 of the 300 Islamist fighters based in Puntland joined him.[12] Over the following year he and his followers evaded attacks by Al-Shabaab loyalists and recruited new members; by October 2016, it was assumed that Abdul Qadir Mumin's group had significantly grown to about 300 fighters. Thus, as the first anniversary of the Islamic State in Somalia's foundation grew near, ISS sought a target for its first major attack. In this regard, Qandala would be a convenient target, as Mumin's clan lived near the town, and the conquest of a significant settlement as well as the proclamation of an Islamic region in the whole of Africa could gain him more local support and sympathizers.[6]

Furthermore, Qandala is a town of both strategic as well as symbolic significance: It is generally known that the Islamic State in Somalia receives experts, trainers, money, weapons and other materials from its allies in Yemen. ISS is active in areas, however, that are very mountainous and difficult to reach by land, so that they are generally supplied by sea; in this regard, the possession of a port town like Qandala would allow them to receive more shipments of supplies.[6][7] Conversely, Qandala is "a traditional symbol of staunch resistance to foreign occupation", as it was the site where the Somali rebel and folk hero Ali Fahiye Gedi burned the Italian flag and was subsequently imprisoned by Italian soldiers in 1914.[6]


ISS capture of Qandala

On early 26 October, ISS militants began their surprise attack[6] against Qandala, cutting the town's phone lines while encountering little resistance. As Qandala was defended only by a very small number of soldiers, who were unable to stop the Islamic State fighters, all government officials and soldiers soon fled Qandala. Thereupon 60 ISS militants entered the town and captured it without further fighting, hoisting their flag on top of the police station[12][13] and the building where Ali Fahiye Gedi had been imprisoned.[6] Even though the jihadists tried to reassure the local population by telling them "don't panic, we will rule you according to the Islamic sharia (law)",[13] Qandala's elders asked them to leave, to which the militants insisted that "they are not going anywhere".[7]

On the next day, Qandala's schools closed, and for the first time in the town's history, thousands of its residents fled by boat and on foot to Bosaso,[6][14][15] while the Puntland Maritime Police Force deployed several gunboats to intercept any shipments by militant groups from Yemen.[6] Puntland officials also claimed that ISS began to retreat from the town, though these reports were later disproven by locals.[11] By 23 November, all civilian residents of Qandala had fled; overall 25,700 locals had been displaced due to the ISS takeover.[15][10] Meanwhile, the town's ISS garrison began to erect defences around the town to prepare for the inevitable government counter-offensive.[15]

Puntland's counter-offensive

The two leaders of the government counter-offensive, Shire Haji Farah and Yusuf Mohamed Dhedo, at Qandala after the town's recapture from ISS on 7 December 2016.

The Puntland Security Force began their counter-offensive on 3 December,[5] though their forces were hindered by the difficult terrain around Qandala and narrow roads that led to the town.[4] Government soldiers encountered first resistance at the village of Bashashin, when they were forced to stop in order to dismantle landmines that had been placed on the road that ran through the village. At that moment, ISS militants launched a surprise attack, though the Puntland forces eventually repelled the assault.[5] Another major skirmish happened on 5 December; besides these two battles,[4] the fighting was mostly sporadic, though it lasted until 7 December.[10] On that day, the Puntland forces entered Qandala by land and sea, encountering no resistance; ISS had evacuated its forces from the town beforehand and subsequently retreated to Gurur in the mountainous areas to the south.[4]

On 18 December, Puntland police forces reportedly attacked and destroyed an ISS base at El Ladid, a village 30 kilometers south of Qandala, where the rebels were regrouping after their retreat.[1]


Though ISS had ultimately lost all captured territory and if government sources are to be believed, suffered heavy casualties,[4] the fact that the small local Islamic State branch had captured a major town and held it for over a month "could be interpreted as an important symbolic victory for the group".[2]


  1. ^ Qandala was initially captured by around 60 ISS fighters,[7] but the number of militants who defended the town during the government counter-offensive is completely unknown.[5] Overall, ISS is estimated to have 100[2] to 300 fighters.[6]


  1. ^ a b c d Mohamed Olad Hassan (19 December 2016). "Regional Somali Forces 'Destroy' Islamic State Base". Voice of America. Retrieved 10 February 2017. 
  2. ^ a b c d Warner (2017), p. 30.
  3. ^ Caleb Weiss (28 October 2016). "Islamic State fighters withdraw from captured Somali port town". Long War Journal. Retrieved 10 February 2017. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i Harun Maruf (7 December 2016). "Forces Retake Somali Town Held by Pro-Islamic State Fighters". Voice of America. Retrieved 10 February 2017. 
  5. ^ a b c d e Harun Maruf (3 December 2016). "Somalia Security Forces and IS Fighters Directly Clash for First Time". Voice of America. Retrieved 10 February 2017. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Harun Maruf (28 October 2016). "Somali Officials Vow to Retake Puntland Town". Voice of America. Retrieved 10 February 2017. 
  7. ^ a b c Harun Maruf (26 October 2016). "IS Militants Seize Town in Somalia's Puntland". Voice of America. Retrieved 10 February 2017. 
  8. ^ "Somalia: Puntland Forces Retake Qandala Town From Isis". 4 December 2016. Retrieved 10 February 2017. 
  9. ^ "Somalia: Seven Militants Killed in Qandala Battle". 4 December 2016. Retrieved 11 February 2017. 
  10. ^ a b c "Somalia: UN - Fighting Near Qandala Town Displaces 25,700". 8 December 2016. Retrieved 10 February 2017. 
  11. ^ a b Caleb Weiss (9 February 2017). "Islamic State claims hotel attack in northern Somalia". Long War Journal. Retrieved 10 February 2017. 
  12. ^ a b Caleb Weiss (26 October 2016). "Islamic State in Somalia claims capture of port town". Long War Journal. Retrieved 10 February 2017. 
  13. ^ a b Feisal Omar; Abdi Sheikh (26 October 2016). "Islamic State-aligned group takes Somali town, say officials". Reuters. Retrieved 10 February 2017. 
  14. ^ Mohamed Olad (29 October 2016). "Three Killed as Rival Somali Troops Clash". Voice of America. Retrieved 10 February 2017. 
  15. ^ a b c Harun Maruf (25 November 2016). "Last Resident Leaves Somali Town Taken by Islamic State". Voice of America. Retrieved 10 February 2017. 


  • Warner, Jason (2017). "Sub-Saharan Africa's Three "New" Islamic State Affiliates" (PDF). CTC Sentinel. West Point, New York: Combating Terrorism Center. 10 (1): 28–32. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2017-04-30. Retrieved 2017-02-11. 
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