Somalia’s al Shabaab launches offensive in south

Somalia’s al Shabaab launches offensive in south
# 01 October 2011 02:46 (UTC +04:00)
Baku-APA. Somali militants launched a new offensive on southern towns bordering Kenya and Ethiopia on Friday, prompting a swift reinforcement of the porous frontier by Kenyan troops, APA reports quoting Reuters.

Somali government troops and allied militia groups regained control of a string of towns along the borders with Kenya and Ethiopia from the al Shabaab rebel group earlier this year in a military offensive supported by both neighbors.

The resumption of intense battles so close to the borders is a blow to the embattled Somali government, which had wanted to capitalize on the militants’ withdrawal from Mogadishu in Augsust and show it could control areas beyond the capital.

Residents said government troops repelled the latest attacks, but that the rebels could push forward again, further hampering the work of aid groups struggling to help more than 1 million famine victims in southern and central Somalia.

Early on Friday the rebels entered Dhobley, near the Kenyan border, from three directions, attacking government troops and an allied militia known as the Raskamboni, a resident who fled the fighting said from Kenya.

"It was morning when al Shabaab attacked us from different directions ... I have seen 13 dead bodies mostly from the Raskamboni. We can say al Shabaab is now fully in the city, and the casualties may be more than that," officer Mohammed Wardhere told Reuters from the border.

A few hours later, residents said the Somali military regained control of the town.

"A more serious fight took place hours after government troops regrouped. However, al Shabaab is not far and fighting may restart at any time," resident Abdiqader Saciid said by telephone.

Al Shabaab said it lost six fighters and killed 40 government soldiers.

KENYAN MILITARY DEPLOYS

Just 5 km (3 miles) away, hundreds of Kenyan security forces backed by armored vehicles and helicopters deployed at the porous frontier, as bodies lay on the ground at the scene of the battle across the border.

"We have a strong force spread along the long stretch of the border with Somalia where fighting has been reported. No militia has managed to enter the country," said Kenya’s northeastern provincial police commander Leo Nyongesa.

Yusuf Dhere, a resident of the Kenyan border town of Liboi, said he saw wounded Somali troops being brought into the hospital. "We are still collecting and transporting more wounded people from the border, where we can hear artillery."

The U.N. special envoy for Somalia, Augustine Mahiga, told reporters at a meeting of the International Contact Group on Somalia in the Danish capital that the ICG was gravely concerned about the attacks.

Somali troops, with logistical and intelligence support from Kenya and Ethiopia, regained control of towns along the border with both neighbors earlier this year, but the insurgents have vowed to strike back.

Although they gave up most of the bases in Mogadishu, al Shabaab retain control in two city districts.

The failure of government and peacekeeping troops to seize the momentum, push them out completely and establish effective control has raised fears it is only a matter of time before the militants return in full force to the capital.

Mahiga said Mogadishu remained under the "full control" of the Transitional Federal Government forces and the African Union Mission and those forces were confident the remnants of Al Shabaab still in the city would be cleared.

"There is growing concern that some elements of Al Shabaab are spilling over into Puntland and Galmudug, and there is a possibility they could go as far as Somaliland, so it is an issue which needs to be addressed," he said.

In New York, the U.N. Security Council on Friday extended authorization for the African Union peacekeeping force in Somalia, AMISOM, for a further year.

Somalia’s U.N. Ambassador, Elmi Ahmed Duale, told the council, however, that he remained concerned that the force, which currently consists of 9,000 troops from Uganda and Burundi, lacked resources and needed to be expanded.

The council’s resolution called on African countries to provide more troops to bring AMISOM up to its mandated strength of 12,000, and said it would consider authorizing a further increase in the force after that.

In the southwestern region of Gedo, some parts of which are in the hands of the rebels, a clash between troops and militants killed 24 on Thursday, a government official said.

"Al Shabaab killed 10 of our soldiers in an ambush on Thursday. They hit us with artillery, " Mahmoud Ali Shire told Reuters from the border town of Dolow.

"The ambush turned into hand to hand fighting and we killed 14 fighters from al Shabaab," he added.

An al Shabaab spokesman said five of their men had been wounded and said dozens of government troops were killed.

"We ambushed the government convoy. We seized and fought them seriously and we captured machineguns and small arms from them. We will continue fighting until we remove them from Gedo region," Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab told Reuters.
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