Al-Shabab Loses Key Somali Town

Posted February 22nd, 2012 at 11:50 am (UTC-5)
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Ethiopian and Somali government troops have captured a key stronghold of the Somali militant group al-Shabab.

Witnesses say the troops took control of Baidoa without a fight Wednesday, after al-Shabab fighters withdrew from the town.

The town, located in southwestern Somalia, was home to the country's Transitional Federal Government until al-Shabab captured it in 2009.

Somalia's deputy prime minister, Mohamed Mahmud Ibrahim, tells VOA that officials and more troops will go to Baidoa to, in his words, stabilize the situation.

He also thanked Ethiopia for its help in the fight against al-Shabab.

“The people are welcoming very much the support the TFG is getting from the Ethiopian troops who are our friend. It has come the right time when we needed it. They do not have other interests, we have confidence on that.”

Ethiopia, Kenya and the African Union all have troops in Somalia helping the government battle the militants. Al-Shabab, which is allied with al-Qaida, has tried to topple the government since 2007 and turn Somalia into a strict Islamic state.

In New York Wednesday, the U.N. Security Council authorized the African Union to increase its force in Somalia to 17,700 troops, an increase of nearly 6,000.

The AU mission in Somalia, known as AMISOM, recently pushed al-Shabab out of the capital, Mogadishu, while Ethiopian troops drove it from the central town of Beledweyne.

The militant group still controls parts of central and southern Somalia but appears to be weakening.

Ethiopian and Somali government troops began driving toward Baidoa on Sunday, and a Somali government official had predicted the town would be “liberated” by Friday prayers.

The capture comes one day before a one-day international conference on Somalia's future in London. Somalia's president and prime minister are due to attend, as is U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

The Horn of Africa country has endured two decades of chaos and conflict since the fall of its last stable government in 1991.