TFG & AU troops attack Mogadishu rebel positions

Halkaan ka akhri

MOGADISHU (AFP)— African Union-backed Somali government forces raided Islamist rebel hideouts in Mogadishu Friday with tanks and artillery, sparking a retaliation that killed four government soldiers and officials.

African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) troops moved into the capital’s northern Heliwa and Gupta suburbs, still held by the Al-Qaeda linked Shebab militia.

“The government forces assisted by AMISOM peacekeepers took control of the small part in northern Mogadishu where violent elements have remained,” Somali military commander Abdulahi Ali told reporters.

“Our troops fought bravely, achieving their objective to secure the northern frontier of the city,” AMISOM said in a statement, reporting to have taken control of the Mogadishu University and Barakat Cemetery areas.

Hardline Shebab fighters abandoned fixed positions in most of Mogadishu last August but continue to control small pockets on the outskirts.

The fighters have instead largely switched to guerrilla tactics in Mogadishu, launching a string of attacks including roadside bombs and grenade explosions against the Western-backed government and AU troops.

Three Somali soldiers and a government official were killed when a convoy including journalists was attacked by Shebab fighters near the frontline, an AFP photographer said.

“Our convoy was ambushed by Shebab fighters – an RPG (rocket-propelled grenade) struck one vehicle and some government officials were killed,” the photographer in the convoy said, adding the journalists escaped unharmed.

“It was chaotic, most of the trees along the road had been felled by mortar fire and houses were damaged.”

Witnesses said it was a large scale assault by the AU force, which has been battling the Shebab and defending the Western-backed government since 2007.

AMISOM boasted the assault had allowed it for the “first time… to secure an area outside” the city, although it has pushed outside the city in other sections in earlier assaults against Shebab positions.

“This is a final military offensive to eliminate terrorists from the city,” Ali said.

Two AMISOM soldiers were wounded in the assault, the AU said.

“There was heavy fighting — we saw AMISOM troops alongside tanks and TFG (government) forces advancing onto Heliwa and Gubta areas, Al-Shebab fighters were returning fire but they were pushed back,” said Ahmed Samow, a witness.

“AMISOM is firing heavy artillery and I saw many troops moving deep into the areas that have remained in Al-Shebab hands,” said Samiro Abdulkadir, another witness.

Shebab commanders confirmed the fighting but declined to give details.

Regional armies are converging on the Shebab, Kenyan forces in the far south, Ethiopian soldiers in the west and African Union forces in Mogadishu made up of 10,000 troops from Uganda, Burundi and Djibouti.

AMISOM commander Major Fred Mugisha has said that 98 percent of Mogadishu is free, but the city still remains one of the world’s most dangerous amid a severe humanitarian crisis and the devastation of more than 20 years of conflict.

Up to 250,000 people face starvation in the famine zones in Somalia, while some four million Somalis are in urgent need of aid across the Horn of Africa country, according to the UN.

Somalia was the hardest hit country in the Horn of Africa region by a recent drought that left some 12 million people facing extreme hunger.

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