Somali government troops backed by African Union (AU) forces have seized a major Al Shabaab insurgent base in a dawn raid on the outskirts of the war-torn capital, Mogadishu.
AU soldiers drove the radical Al Qaeda-linked militia out of the village of Maslah with heavy weaponry on Friday, employing anti-aircraft guns and tanks in a battle that lasted several hours, according to the Associated Press.
Two helicopters were reportedly used in the offensive.
Al Shabaab pulled out of Mogadishu last August in what it described as a “tactical” withdrawal. It has continued to carry out suicide attacks in the capital, and formally joined Al Qaeda last month.
Friday’s assault is the latest in a long-running offensive to force the group from its holdout positions, and comes two weeks after AU forces launched a similar operation in southern Mogadishu, the Agence France Presse reports.
Maslah was the insurgents’ last remaining base close to the city. Al Shabaab said it had “voluntarily” withdrawn from the village, which is 5 kilometers north of Mogadishu on one of the two main roads out of the capital, according to the BBC.
The AU mission in Somalia (AMISOM) reported that two AU soldiers had been wounded in Friday’s offensive. Government forces are now searching homes in the area.
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Al Shabaab still controls much of southern and central Somalia, but is under increasing pressure from Kenyan forces in the south and Ethiopian forces in the west.
Last month Ethiopian and Somali forces seized the central town of Baidoa from the insurgents, a key strategic city that once served as the seat of government, while Kenya’s army is slowly advancing on the port city and militant stronghold of Kismayo.
Last week the United Nations Security Council unanimously agreed to increase the number of AU troops in Somalia from 12,000 to 17,700.
The resolution passed by the 15-member council and prepared by the UK also gave the African forces a tougher mandate to attack Al Shabaab militants, and substantially increased international funding for the military operation.
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