Kenyan, Somali Forces Seize Key Town from Al-Shabab

Posted May 31st, 2012 at 10:45 am (UTC-5)
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Somali government and Kenyan troops have seized the town of Afmadow from al-Shabab militants, pushing the battle line closer to the rebels' biggest remaining stronghold in southern Somalia.

Somali military spokesman Mohamed Farah told VOA that forces surrounded the town for days before capturing it on Thursday.

“Today we shelled some identified areas of the town but there has been no fighting in the town. There is a celebration now and welcoming of our forces in the town.”

Afmadow is located about 100 kilometers northwest of Kismayo, the most critical stronghold of al-Shabab militants in Somalia's Lower Juba region. The region has been solidly held by al-Shabab since August of 2008.

The seizure marks the second major blow to the al-Qaida-allied group in less than a week.

On Monday, African Union and Somali forces pushed the rebels out of the Afgoye corridor about 30 kilometers west of Mogadishu.

Al-Shabab once controlled most of southern and central Somalia, including most of the capital, Mogadishu, but it has steadily lost ground to an offensive by AU, Somali, Kenyan and Ethiopian forces.

Al-Shabab currently controls two other major towns in Somalia. One is Jowhar, located about 90 kilometers north of Mogadishu. The other is Mercer, located about 100 kilometers south of Mogadishu.

International leaders have warned that al-Shabab could destabilize the entire East African region. The group carried out bombings that killed more than 70 people in Uganda in 2010 and is blamed for kidnappings and grenade attacks in Kenya.

The Islamist militants are fighting to overthrow Somalia's weak transitional government and impose a strict form of Islamic law.