AU, Somali Forces Move on Al-Shabab Stronghold

Posted May 22nd, 2012 at 11:20 am (UTC-5)
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Pro-government forces in Somalia are trying to seize a militant stronghold near a massive refugee camp outside the capital, Mogadishu.

African Union peacekeepers and Somali government troops launched an operation Tuesday targeting the al-Shabab-controlled town of Afogye.

Witnesses reported heavy fighting in an area known as the Afogye corridor. The corridor includes camps for about 400,000 Somalis driven from their homes by drought and years of war.

VOA's Somali Service quotes a government official who says at least five people have been killed, all of them combatants.

The AU mission in Somalia, known as AMISOM, said al-Shabab has been preventing aid agencies from operating in the area.

An AMISOM statement described the offensive as a “carefully planned operation” to bring security and stability to the area.

Force commander Lieutenant General Andrew Guttie said the troops are taking “every precaution to prevent harm and injury to civilians,” and will only fight if attacked by al-Shabab militants.

During a phone interview from the frontline, Somali General Abdullahi Ali Anod said the operation began in Mogadishu's Daynile district. He said forces seized a small air strip there before pushing west toward Afogye.

The African Union said the operation is making good progress.

Al-Shabab has been fighting to overthrow Somalia's U.N.-backed transitional government and impose strict Islamic law.

The group once controlled most of southern and central Somalia, but has steadily lost ground in the past 18 months to AU, Somali, Kenyan and Ethiopian forces.