[Dehai-WN] (Reuters): Somalia's al Shabaab launches offensive in south

[Dehai-WN] (Reuters): Somalia's al Shabaab launches offensive in south

From: Berhane Habtemariam <Berhane.Habtemariam_at_gmx.de_at_dehai.org>
Date: Sat, 1 Oct 2011 01:36:06 +0200

Somalia's al Shabaab launches offensive in south

Fri Sep 30, 2011 6:14pm GMT

(Adds U.N. comment)

* Al Shabaab attacks Gedo region and Dhobley

* Attacks highlight rebels' capabilities

* Kenya deploys security forces at border

By Feisal Omar and Ibrahim Mohamed

MOGADISHU, Sept 30 (Reuters) - Somali militants launched a new offensive on
southern towns bordering Kenya and Ethiopia on Friday, prompting a swift
reinforcement of the porous frontier by Kenyan troops.

Somali government troops and allied militia groups regained control of a
string of towns along the borders with Kenya and Ethiopia from the al
Shabaab rebel group earlier this year in a military offensive supported by
both neighbours.

The resumption of intense battles so close to the borders is a blow to the
embattled Somali government, which had wanted to capitalise on the
militants' withdrawal from Mogadishu in Augsust and show it could control
areas beyond the capital.

Residents said government troops repelled the latest attacks, but that the
rebels could push forward again, further hampering the work of aid groups
struggling to help more than 1 million famine victims in southern and
central Somalia.

Early on Friday the rebels entered Dhobley, near the Kenyan border, from
three directions, attacking government troops and an allied militia known as
the Raskamboni, a resident who fled the fighting said from Kenya.

"It was morning when al Shabaab attacked us from different directions ... I
have seen 13 dead bodies mostly from the Raskamboni. We can say al Shabaab
is now fully in the city, and the casualties may be more than that," officer
Mohammed Wardhere told Reuters from the border.

A few hours later, residents said the Somali military regained control of
the town.

"A more serious fight took place hours after government troops regrouped.
However, al Shabaab is not far and fighting may restart at any time,"
resident Abdiqader Saciid said by telephone.

Al Shabaab said it lost six fighters and killed 40 government soldiers.


Just 5 km (3 miles) away, hundreds of Kenyan security forces backed by
armoured vehicles and helicopters deployed at the porous frontier, as bodies
lay on the ground at the scene of the battle across the border.

"We have a strong force spread along the long stretch of the border with
Somalia where fighting has been reported. No militia has managed to enter
the country," said Kenya's northeastern provincial police commander Leo

Yusuf Dhere, a resident of the Kenyan border town of Liboi, said he saw
wounded Somali troops being brought into the hospital. "We are still
collecting and transporting more wounded people from the border, where we
can hear artillery."

The U.N. special envoy for Somalia, Augustine Mahiga, told reporters at a
meeting of the International Contact Group on Somalia in the Danish capital
that the ICG was gravely concerned about the attacks.

Somali troops, with logistical and intelligence support from Kenya and
Ethiopia, regained control of towns along the border with both neighbours
earlier this year, but the insurgents have vowed to strike back.

Although they gave up most of the bases in Mogadishu, al Shabaab retain
control in two city districts.

The failure of government and peacekeeping troops to seize the momentum,
push them out completely and establish effective control has raised fears it
is only a matter of time before the militants return in full force to the

Mahiga said Mogadishu remained under the "full control" of the Transitional
Federal Government forces and the African Union Mission and those forces
were confident the remnants of Al Shabaab still in the city would be

"There is growing concern that some elements of Al Shabaab are spilling over
into Puntland and Galmudug, and there is a possibility they could go as far
as Somaliland, so it is an issue which needs to be addressed," he said.

In New York, the U.N. Security Council on Friday extended authorization for
the African Union peacekeeping force in Somalia, AMISOM, for a further year.

Somalia's U.N. Ambassador, Elmi Ahmed Duale, told the council, however, that
he remained concerned that the force, which currently consists of 9,000
troops from Uganda and Burundi, lacked resources and needed to be expanded.

The council's resolution called on African countries to provide more troops
to bring AMISOM up to its mandated strength of 12,000, and said it would
consider authorizing a further increase in the force after that.

In the southwestern region of Gedo, some parts of which are in the hands of
the rebels, a clash between troops and militants killed 24 on Thursday, a
government official said.

"Al Shabaab killed 10 of our soldiers in an ambush on Thursday. They hit us
with artillery, " Mahmoud Ali Shire told Reuters from the border town of

"The ambush turned into hand to hand fighting and we killed 14 fighters from
al Shabaab," he added.

An al Shabaab spokesman said five of their men had been wounded and said
dozens of government troops were killed.

"We ambushed the government convoy. We seized and fought them seriously and
we captured machineguns and small arms from them. We will continue fighting
until we remove them from Gedo region," Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab told
Reuters. (Reporting by Feisal Omar and Ibrahim Mohamed in Mogadishu and
Sahra Abdi and Nour Ali in Nairobi and Patrick Worsnip in New York; writing
by Yara Bayoumy and Richard Lough; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

C Thomson Reuters 2011 All rights reserved


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