MOGADISHU, Oct 8 – African Union and Somali government forces on Saturday launched an offensive to flush out remnant Shabab militia from a Mogadishu district, two months after the rebels pulled out of the city.
The push comes after the Al-Qaeda-linked insurgents carried out their deadliest single attack in years when a suicide bomber on Tuesday detonated an explosives-laden truck at a government compound, killing at least 82 people.
“The Somali troops and the African peacekeepers supporting them moved into new locations in Mogadishu to ensure full control of the city,” said Abdulahi Mohamed Roble, the head of the northern Karan district where the operation was launched.
“The forces took control of Keysaney hospital early in the morning and advanced deep into the district.
“The mission is aimed at eliminating remnants of the terrorist group from the whole city,” he added.
According to the AU force commander Major General Fred Mugisha, the troops now control 95 percent of the war-torn Mogadishu since the insurgents’ withdrawal.
While the Shabab abandoned positions in Mogadishu where they had waged a four-year war to dislodge the Western-backed Somali government, they remain a serious security threat as they resorted to guerrilla attacks.
A Shabab commander who did not want to be named said they had repulsed the offensive.
“The allied enemy of Allah failed this morning after attempting to take control of locations where Mujahidin fighters are. We have inflicted heavy casualties on them forcing them to retreat to their positions,” he said.
Residents reported heavy fighting after the AU and government troops moved into the district in armoured vehicles.
“I saw tanks and joint Somali and AU troops moving into Keysaney area. There was a heavy exchange of fire, but I don’t know about casualties,” said Abdulahi Moalim, a witness.