, NAIROBI, May 17 – The African Union force in Somalia said Monday it had seized several positions from the Al Qaeda-inspired rebels in Mogadishu in a renewed offensive launched earlier this month.
The 9,000-strong force is tasked with protecting Somalia\’s weak transitional government, which the Shebab insurgents have been fighting to topple over the past four years.
Paddy Ankunda, the force\’s spokesman, said the troops had seized a building, a former army base and a street from the Shebab since the fresh drive began on May 12.
"The objective was to take the fight to the enemy. So far we have succeeded in doing that," Ankunda said. "The main objective was to take some new roads and make them re-open for public use."
He added that they were now controlling 60 percent of the capital Mogadishu.
In February, the AU troops and government forces launched a wide offensive against the Shebab in the capital city while pro-government fighters attacked the insurgents in other regions of the country.
"They have made substantial progress. They have captured a number of towns (in south central Somali). They haven\’t lost any of these towns, which is a new trend," said Ankunda via a video link from Mogadishu.
"In my view, that effort is working out very well and it is stretching the insurgents beyond their capacity."
In Mogadishu Monday, six fighters of the pro-government militia Ahlu Sunna wal Jamaa were killed when the Shebab attacked their position, a mosque, in the city\’s central Howlwadag district.
"Six of our fighters were killed and 12 others injured today after the terrorists fired several rounds of mortar at a base we seized from them yesterday," said Ahmed Ismail, an official of the Sufi militia.
"We have killed several of their fighters in the last three days and they have lost several key military positions," added Ismail. The Shebab had captured the mosque in September.
The AU force first deployed in Mogadishu in 2007 and comprises troops from Uganda and Burundi. The troops have been Shebab\’s only obstacle from total takeover of southern and central Somalia.
The rebels, who have sworn allegiance to Al-Qaeda, control much of the war-torn Horn of African country where they have imposed a strict brand of Islam.