Somali soldiers storm al-Shabaab stronghold


Somali and African Union soldiers have regained a key area on the outskirts of Mogadishu. AU soldiers used heavy weaponry, including anti-aircraft guns and tanks, to drive al-Shabaab rebels out of the village of Maslah during a battle that lasted several hours, residents in the war-torn city reported.

"The fighting has stopped now, but al-Shabaab fighters were forced out of here," one resident said. Somali troops are now searching homes in the area, he added. Maslah was the last place that the insurgents, who are linked to al-Qa'ida, could move freely in the capital. They used the village to store weapons, train, and carry out executions, and as a base from which to carry out attacks on military bases in Mogadishu.

"This operation is necessary to consolidate the security of Mogadishu. It will make it possible for the civilians to return to their homes and resume their normal lives," said Maj Gen Fred Mugisha of the AU. "I urge every peace-loving Somali to give maximum co-operation towards this cause for peace."

Al-Shabaab claimed to have inflicted heavy losses on the attacking force. "They launched a counterattack on our ... forces but we inflicted heavy casualities on them," a statement said.

A few residents who stayed in their homes during the fighting fled when it subsided. "We are running away to Balad [a town north of the capital]; it's a dangerous situation [here]," said one resident.

Mogadishu has long been a battleground during Somalia's 21-year-old civil war. But al-Shabaab withdrew from most of its bases in August and recent pushes by the AU and Somali troops have helped bring partial security.

Insurgents in disguise can still move freely, and assassinations, suicide attacks and bombings are still frequent. But the rebels no longer holds set positions and cannot man checkpoints.