Pro-government militiamen and al Shabaab insurgents have launched separate offensives in southern and central Somalia, witnesses say, as the bloodshed intensifies across the war-ridden country.
AFP - A fresh offensive by pro-government forces against extremist Shebab fighters killed at least 21 people, mainly combatants, on Thursday in central Somalia, officials and witnesses said.
Pro-government forces launched an attack on the town of Bulobarde, which is located some 200 kilometres (120 miles) north of Mogadishu and was previously controlled by the Shebab, an Al Qaeda-inspired organisation.
Several local residents and officials told AFP they had counted at least 21 bodies and said that the fighting was ongoing.
"They attacked us this morning with a large army but they sheepishly retreated and many of their fighters are strewn in the street now," Sheikh Mohamed Ibrahim, a local Shebab commander, told AFP by phone from the town.
"There is still some sporadic fighting in some parts of the town and we have counted at least 21 dead. The terrorists have suffered great losses in the battle today," said Colonel Adan Yusuf Mohamed, a Somali government military leader in the region.
According to residents, the government troops were assisted in their latest offensive by Ahlu Sunna wal Jamaa, an influential Sufi religious organisation which recently took up arms against the Shebab.
The latest clashes come amid a vast counter-offensive against Shebab strongholds in the centre and south of the Horn of Africa country.
An alliance of clan militias, government forces and Ahlu Sunna wal Jamaa fighters earlier this week recaptured two strategic towns from the Shebab without any fighting.
According to residents, the Islamist insurgents however on Wednesday wrested back control of the town of Bulohawo, which sits just across the border from the Kenyan town of Mandera.
Ahlu Sunna wal Jamaa and allied groups have recently inflicted serious losses on the Shebab, who had controlled much of central and southern Somalia in recent months.
Bulobarde is the main town on the road linking the capital Mogadishu to Beledweyn, a key city on the border with Ethiopia.
Residents said the fighting was the heaviest the town had seen in a long time and that both sides used heavy machine-guns and anti-aircraft weapons.
"The fighting has stopped for now but the warring sides are still facing off in one neighbourhood... I personally saw the bodies of 18 fighters and the death toll could be much higher," local resident Abdurahman Ali said.
Abdikarim Muktar, a grocer in the town, said the heaviest fighting occurred near a bridge over a river that divides the town.
"Most of the people died near the bridge where the fighting was fierce. The government forces were pushed back from that area," he said.
Earlier this week, the prime minister of Somalia's embattled transitional federal government (TFG) reshuffled the cabinet in an attempt to offer a tougher response to a bruising insurgency.
The Shebab and the more political Hezb al-Islam on May 7 launched a broad military offensive against the TFG in Mogadishu and other regions, leaving President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed's power hanging by thread.
Tuesday's reshuffle saw a new defence minister brought in and a powerful deputy appointed to bolster the government's war effort.
Date created : 2009-08-20