Ethiopia unrest and the troop withdrawals have come as a opportune boost for al-Shabab as they seize more territory.
As the clock ticked past 11am and birds nestling on the short dry shrub trees chirped away, a large group of young men in camouflage uniforms and black face-wraps appeared from nowhere and marched towards an open clearing in the bush, their feet kicking up dust in the soft, sun-baked brown soil beneath.
Totalling more than 150 men and only their eyes visible, they made no eye contact or small talk among themselves as they lined up.
The men are part of al-Shabab's Special Forces gathered in this rebel base in southern Somalia to undergo final training before they dispatch to nearby towns in preparation for taking them over from African Union (AU) and Somali government troops.
The training base is about 10km outside the strategic town of Moqokori in the Hiiraan region, a town the al-Qaeda-linked group retook after Ethiopian troops withdrew last month.
It is a pattern that has been repeated many times recently across south and central Somalia.
Ethiopia has more than 4,300 soldiers in Somalia as part of African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) - a UN security council-mandated mission to combat the armed group.
The East African country also has thousands of other troops that are not part of AMISOM in Somalia.