Ethiopian soldiers and pro-government Somali forces seized a key town in southwest Somalia Thursday, inflicting a new loss on al-Qaeda allied Shebab insurgents, officials and witnesses said.
Heavily armed troops took control of the town of Hudur, capital of the Shebab-controlled Bakool region, about 90 kilometres from the Ethiopian border.
“We have chased away the terrorists from Hudur and seized several guns they left behind,” Mohamed Ibrahim, a local government official.
“There was little resistance,” he said, adding that several people accused of being Shebab supporters in Hudur had been arrested.
Witnesses said that extremist Shebab fighters abandoned the town after heavy battles on Wednesday as the Ethiopian column advanced.
“Shebab fighters tried to ambush our forces but they were defeated late on Wednesday, and they have fled the area,” said Somalia MP Mohamed Ibrahim Kishbur.
“Mujahedeen fighters ambushed the enemy convoy... many of their soldiers were killed and armoured trucks destroyed,” a Shebab commander, who asked not to be named, said before the town was captured.
Shebab fighters fled Hudur at dawn on Thursday, leaving the town empty of gunmen “because of the approaching forces from Ethiopia,” said Mohamud Idow, a resident.
The loss of Hudur dealt another blow to the Shebab, who face increasing pressure from pro-government forces and regional armies.
Last month the extremists lost control of their strategic base of Baidoa to Ethiopian troops, the second major loss in six months after abandoning fixed bases in the capital Mogadishu.
However, experts warn the Shebab are far from defeated and remain a major threat, especially now they have in many areas switched to guerrilla tactics.
On Tuesday, the rebels were ousted from the central town of Dhusamareb hours after they captured it from a pro-government militia, in fierce battles both sides claimed had killed a number of rival fighters.
Shebab insurgents this week also launched mortar bomb salvos at the presidential palace in Mogadishu, missing the fortified compound but hitting a nearby camp for displaced people, killing six.
Fred Mugisha, commander of the 10 000-strong African Union force that defends the weak Western-backed government, called on Somalis to provide information about future attacks.
“If they (the Shebab) were seeking to improve the situation of the people, they wouldn't be attacking unarmed civilians,” Mugisha said in a statement.
The Shebab and other armed groups control large areas in the south of the lawless Horn of Africa nation, that has suffered the depredations of a two-decade civil war and the devastation of a severe humanitarian crisis. - AFP