AU troops attack Al-Shabab positions in Mogadishu.

Halkaan ka akhri

MOGADISHU — African Union-backed Somali government forces attacked Islamist Shebab rebel posts on the outskirts of the war-torn capital Mogadishu with tanks and artillery Tuesday, officials and witness said.

Burundian troops with the AU Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) launched a pre-dawn attack against holdout positions of the Al-Qaeda allied Shebab, to secure a key road leading from anarchic Mogadishu to the rebel-held town of Afgoye.

“Somalia’s army and AMISOM troops advanced on new locations in the Afgoye corridor, they have taken bases there and will continue moving towards Afgoye,” said Mohamed Alole, a Somali security official.

“The Al-Qaeda militants started to fight back, but they were defeated and ran away after a brief exchange of gunfire.”

On Sunday, AMISOM deputy commander Audace Nduwumunsi told AFP that the force would soon attack Afgoye, some 30 kilometres (19 miles) northwest of Mogadishu, which is home to around 400,000 displaced people.

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

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.

“The road was closed at dawn with tanks and hundreds of soldiers… fighting is going on and people there are worried,” said Ahmednur Ali, a resident in Mogadishu’s K13 area, 13 kilometres from the city centre.

“I saw at least three tanks and other armoured vehicles moving towards the area, civilian transport was stopped,” said Dahir Bare, another witness.

A Shebab commander who spoke to AFP confirmed the clashes but declined to give details, but AMISOM said their attacks had been a success.

“Operations are ongoing to expand the zone of security in Mogadishu,” Nduwumunsi said in a statement.

“AMISOM’s Burundian contingent took Al Janal hill, which oversees the southern approaches to the Mogadishu International Airport, as well as the Masla building, which sits on the road to Afgoye,” the statement said.

Extremist Shebab gunmen have been fighting to topple the Western-backed Somali government in Mogadishu, where the administration survives under the protection of the 10,000-strong AU force.

Regional countries have recently increased pressure on the Shebab, with Kenyan troops battling the rebels in southern Somalia since October.

Ethiopia also sent forces to southwestern Somalia in November, the second such incursion in less than three years.

Somalia has lacked an effective central government since president Mohamed Siad Barre was ousted in 1991, unleashing cycles of bloody conflict that have defied countless peace initiatives.

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