Somali, AU troops push towards Islamist stronghold of Afgoye

AFP, Wednesday 23 May 2012

Hundreds of Somali troops backed by AU soldiers and tanks begin a long-awaited attack in a bid to push forward their assault in Afgoye, an Al-Qaeda linked Shebab militia's stronghold

Commanders serving the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) discuss in front of their armoured personnel carrier during a joint AMISOM and Somali National Army (SNA) operation against Al-Shabaab militants in Deyniile May 22, 2012. (Photo: Reuters)

African Union and Somali government troops will push forward their assault on the Islamist Shebab stronghold of Afgoye, the world's largest displaced people's camp, army officials said Wednesday.

Hundreds of Somali troops backed by AU soldiers and tanks began a long-awaited attack on Tuesday, when they moved out in a pre-dawn attack from Deynile, a suburb of Mogadishu.

However, the Al-Qaeda linked Shebab militia claimed to have repulsed the attack, boasting of killing several soldiers, including Western military advisors.

Witnesses reported several casualties, but the claims could not be independently verified.

"We will continue advancing onto remaining locations," Somali military commander Abdikarin Yusuf Dhegobadan told reporters.

"The fighting on Tuesday was just the preparation to pave the way for the big battle," he said.

Over 400,000 people, around one third of all the displaced people in Somalia, were living in the Afgoye corridor at the start of the year, fleeing war or drought, according to the UN, which warned that civilians must be protected.

Residents near the frontline said the situation was quiet on Wednesday, but said government reinforcements were arriving and appeared to be preparing for a fresh assault.

"The situation is quiet so far but there could be fighting at any time, they are preparing for battle," said Muhidin Ali, a resident in Deynile.

The hardline Shebab dismissed claims they had abandoned their positions on the outskirts of Deynile.

"The enemy attacked our positions near Deynile airstrip yesterday but, thanks to God, the mujahedeen fighters fought back fiercely," Shebab spokesman Sheikh Abdulaziz Abu Musab told reporters.

"The fighters blocked their ambition for advancement, and they have lost in the battle," he said, adding that one Shehab fighter was killed and three others wounded.

"Among the casualties were Western military commanders whose injured and dead bodies were picked by helicopters from the battle zone," he added. The claims could not be confirmed.

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