The African Union and Somalia's Transitional Federal Government have seized a key outpost from the Islamist group al-Shabab. The victory comes as part of a renewed push to bring stability to the Horn of Africa.
African Union and Somali government forces on Friday captured a key base used by the Islamist militant group al-Shabab to stage attacks on the war-torn capital, Mogadishu, part of a larger offensive aimed at driving the militants from their final holdouts.
The capture of al-Shabab's Maslah training camp by the AU's peacekeeping force (AMISOM) gives Somalia's Western-backed transitional government control over the main road linking Mogadishu with the central part of the country. AU soldiers used heavy weaponry, including anti-aircraft guns and tanks, to drive out the al-Shabab militants.
"Today's operation has successfully extended the city's defenses," said Ugandan Major General Fred Mugisha, the AMISOM force commander. "(It) will deny the terrorists important ground from which the have been attacking the population."
The coordinator of ambulance services in Mogadishu, Ali Musa, said at least five civilians were killed in the fighting - some of them children - and dozens of others had been wounded.
"The groups are inhumanely fighting over the civilians who have just fled from al-Shabab areas," Musa told the news agency Reuters. "I am sure the death toll is higher - we have not reached all the corners of north Mogadishu. Most of our ambulances broke down and the blind shelling was terrible."
AMISOM spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Paddy Ankunda told Reuters that two Ugandan soldiers were wounded during the assault. In a statement, al-Shabab claimed to have inflicted "heavy casualties" on the AU and Somali government forces.
International forces have made a renewed push as of late to defeat al-Shabab, which has ties with al-Qaeda. Osama bin Laden's successor, Ayman al-Zawahiri, announced last month that the two groups had joined forces.
The Kenyan military has carried out air and ground strikes against the al-Shabab militants in the west, while Ethiopian forces recently seized control of the southern town Baidoa from the Islamist insurgents.
Somalia's transitional government is currently protected by around 9,000 AU troops. The UN Security Council recently voted to boost that number to 18,000 soldiers. An international conference in London convened last week to discuss ways to improve security in Somalia, which has had no functioning central government since 1991 and is a hotbed for piracy and Islamist radicalism.
slk/pfd (AP, AFP, Reuters)