First contingent of Djibouti troops enter Somalia in a US-backed effort to liquidate the al-Shabaab Islamic resistance movement in the Horn of Africa state. The Pentagon and France have a military base in Djibouti at Camp Lemonier., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
Somali, African forces seize rebel bastion: AU mission
(AFP) – 4 hours ago
MOGADISHU — African forces backing Somali government troops said they took control of one of the Islamist rebellion's last strongholds Friday, sparking intense clashes on the outskirts of Mogadishu.
"Troops from the Somali army backed by troops from the African Union Mission in Somalia on Friday morning seized the district of Deynile and routed the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Shebab terrorists," AMISOM spokesman Paddy Ankunda said in a statement.
But well after that statement, in early evening shooting could still be heard in the area, a humanitarian source in Mogadishu told AFP.
Four AMISOM soldiers were wounded in the offensive, led by Burundian troops in the force, on the sprawling Deynile neighbourhood northwest of central Mogadishu which had been a Shebab safe haven for years.
AMISOM is a well-equipped force of more than 10,000 soldiers from Uganda, Burundi and Djibouti.
Deynile commands access to the Afgoye corridor, an area some 30 kilometres (20 miles) northwest of Mogadishu which is controlled by the Shebab and is home to the world's largest concentration of internally displaced people.
"An important security operation was launched this morning around Deynile and the Afgoye corridor and we have cut off the road to Afgoye," Mohamed Osman Hanaf, a commander in the government forces, told journalists.
"Heavy clashes broke out when Shebab attacked our troops in Deynile," said Hanaf, who said the Al-Qaeda-linked group had been defeated but did not provide any casualty toll.
No Shebab official was immediately available for comment.
"The situation is a bit confused and we have contradictory information on who controls what," the Mogadishu humanitarian source said early Friday evening.
"Our forces and AMISOM advanced and took control of most of Deynile, including the airstrip," Abdulahi Muhidin, another Somali officer, said.
"The Burundians and the Ugandans advanced with tanks towards Deynile and heavy clashes erupted," witness Ise Abdulahi said.
He said most civilians had deserted the neighbourhood before the clashes.
Over the past few weeks, thousands of civilians have streamed out of Deynile ahead of an expected offensive by AMISOM and Somali forces who have tightened their grip on Mogadishu since August.
"All movement of civilians in the Afgoye corridor has been blocked and AMISOM is carrying out military manoeuvres there," a local resident, Jumale Ahmed, told AFP.
Some 410,000 people, around one third of all the displaced people in Somalia, were still living in the Afgoye corridor at the start of the year, fleeing war or drought, according to figures from the UN refugee agency.
Medical aid group Doctors without Borders (MSF) said the hospital in Deynile had come under fire Friday.
"The emergency ward and one part of an operating theatre in this hospital, where MSF has been working since 2006, were hit and major damage was caused," the group said in a statement.
All 19 patients and 48 staff are currently holed up inside a ward sheltering from the clashes, MSF said, calling on the warring parties to respect the hospital's neutrality.
The Shebab, who were recently recognised as an affiliate by Al-Qaeda supremo Ayman al-Zawahiri, want to create an Islamic state in Somalia and have been battling the weak Western-backed transitional government for five years.
They once controlled up to 80 percent of the vast Horn of Africa country but government forces backed by local militia, regional armies and AMISOM have been regaining ground in recent months.
Since abandoning fixed positions in Mogadishu in August, the Shebab have been chased out of most of their strongholds, with the notable exception of the southern port of Kismayo.
Copyright © 2012 AFP. All rights reserved.
Somali military forces head to the frontline of Deynille district in Mogadishu (AFP, Abdurashid Abdulle Abikar)