In the early hours of a June day, a black Toyota four-by-four tried to run a checkpoint manned by Somali government forces in the capital of Mogadishu. The soldiers opened fire on the vehicle, and a brief firefight ensued; when the dust settled, it soon became clear that the Somali troops had killed Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, who was both a founder of the Somali extremist group al-Shabab and the leader of al Qaeda in Somalia.
This success represents a stark reminder to us all that the African Union's mission in this benighted country is of immediate consequence to the security of the whole world. What's more, it reflects a fundamental, and often overlooked, truth: Slowly but surely, we are bringing security to the Somali people.
For too long, Somalia has been synonymous in the international lexicon with "lost cause." This image, however, is woefully out of date. Recent battlefield successes by joint African Union and Somali government forces have fundamentally changed the picture in Mogadishu. For the first time in two decades, there is now a real opportunity to restore security and calm to the city's long-suffering population. It could quickly unravel, however, unless backers of our efforts step up their support -- and soon.
The African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) has 9,000 troops serving in Mogadishu in support of the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia. Our forces have been deployed in Somalia with support from the United Nations since 2007 -- longer than any other international assistance mission in Somalia. In recent months, these troops have taken much ground from the al Qaeda-linked al-Shabab, which seeks to overthrow the internationally recognized government and impose its radical Islamist ideology on the Somali people.
Our efforts to defeat al-Shabab have gained momentum throughout the past year. In February, Somali government forces supported by AMISOM troops seized control of key positions in northwest Mogadishu, including the former Defense Ministry, which had served as the extremists' main logistical and operational base in the city.
In May, AMISOM again supported government forces in an operation to drive al-Shabab out of western Mogadishu by consolidating our hold on Hodan district and squeezing the extremists out of Bakara Market, the city's commercial hub. The operation has already resulted in the capture of the Damanyo Military Camp in the west and Wadnaha Road on the southern fringe of Bakara Market, which had long been closed to civilian traffic by the insurgents.
The impact of these operations cannot be overstated. With the joint force on the verge of securing Bakara Market, we will soon sever this source of illegal revenue for the extremists. Bakara sees sales of millions of dollars per month and therefore represents a major financial stronghold for the insurgents. Once the operation has accomplished its objectives, the roads will be reopened to civilians, increasing the flow of goods and traders to Bakara Market and facilitating the return of some measure of normalcy to many parts of the city.
These gains are part of a steady advance our forces have been making since last summer. At that time, we controlled only a small portion of Mogadishu, situated around the airport and seaport -- journalists regularly referred to the areas under our control as "a few square blocks." We now effectively control two-thirds of the city -- some 16 square miles -- with more than two dozen security outposts scattered throughout the city. More importantly, this has created a relatively safe haven for 80 percent of the estimated 2 million people who live in Mogadishu's southwestern neighborhoods.