, MOGADISHU, Somalia, Jul 19 – African Union troops said Sunday they had launched a new offensive against Al-Qaeda-affiliated Shabaab rebels in southern Somalia, vowing to flush the insurgents out of rural areas.
The African Union Mission in Somalia, or AMISOM, said “Operation Jubba Corridor” was launched on Friday in the Bay and Gedo regions south of the capital Mogadishu along with Somali government troops.
“The operation will ensure that all the remaining areas in Somalia will be liberated and peace restored,” AMISOM said in a statement.
The offensive was launched days after Kenyan government reports that a US drone strike in the region killed at least 30 Shabaab rebels, among them several commanders.
It also comes several weeks after last month’s Shabaab assault on a AMISOM base which left dozens of Burundian soldier dead in one of the single deadliest incidents since AMISOM soldiers arrived in Somalia eight years ago.
The Shabaab, meaning “youth” in Arabic, emerged out of a bitter insurgency against Ethiopia, whose troops entered Somalia in a 2006 US-backed invasion to topple the Islamic Courts Union that was then controlling the capital Mogadishu.
Shabaab rebels continue to stage frequent attacks, seeking to counter claims that they are close to defeat after losing territory in the face of repeated African Union and Somali government offensives, regular US drone strikes against their leaders and defections.
Currently affiliated to the Al-Qaeda franchise, there has been mounting speculation that the group could shift its allegiance to the Islamic State group.
In a message marking Muslim Eid celebrations on Friday, Shabaab leader Ahmed Diriye – also known as Ahmed Umar Abu Ubaidah – outlined plans for the group to increase its operations outside of Somalia and particularly in Kenya.