It's September 2010. The Somali capital Mogadishu has been has been pounded by weeks of heavy fighting pitting the hard-line Islamic extremist groups Al Shabaab and Hizb al Islam against Transitional Federal Government forces backed by African Union troops from Uganda and Burundi.
The fighting has been fierce, brutal and mostly at close quarters. A major offensive launched by the Shabaab to coincide with the Muslim Holy Month of Ramadaan, sought to overrun government and African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom) positions along the Makka al Mukarama Road, the main thoroughfare running along and through the centre of the capital. The offensive's main objective was to cut-off Villa Somalia, the complex which houses the fragile TFG, from Amisom's main base surrounding the airport to the west in Xalane District.
Many insurgent fighters have died in the all-out assault against the heavier weapons and well-dug in positions of the AU. A small handful have been captured, narrating harrowing tales of the brutality of life inside a group which practises one of the harshest and most extreme forms of Islam anywhere in the world. Civilians have been caught in the crossfire too. At Amisom's Level II hospital, where Ugandan and Burundian doctors treat all casualties of the fighting, be they their own troops, civilians or even wounded insurgents, the injured are many and the wounds horrific. Yet the AU held the line in the face of the Shabaab onslaught, which Amisom commanders conceded at times came close to achieving its goal.
Just a few weeks earlier, a double suicide bombing in the Ugandan capital Kampala during the World Cup final claimed over 70 civilian lives. In the wake of the attacks Amisom reinterpreted it's rules of engagement to allow for pre-emptive defence, and now they are hitting back. Having stood their ground and with the extremists weakened by the failed offensive and having lost significant amounts of fighters and hardware, Amisom are pushing forward, reclaiming Mogadishu house-by-house, street-by-street and junction-by-junction.
Unknown by many at the time, but after more than 3 years of controlling some 90 per cent of Mogadishu and enforcing its twisted and violent interpretation of Islam on the population, this was the beginning of sustained operations that would eventually force them to withdraw from the city they had fought in and held for so long. The tide was finally beginning to turn against Al Shabaab.