Somali government troops and allied forces retook the south-eastern town of Bulo Hawo, near the Kenyan border, on Sunday after defeating al-Qaeda-inspired al-Shabaab Islamists, officials and witnesses said.
“We took control of the city after defeating the enemy,” Mohamed Abdi Kalil, the government’s governor for the province, said by telephone.
“Residents were applauding with happiness after they saw the national army back in town after living under the tough regime of al-Shabaab,” he added.
Kalil said many al-Shabaab fighters had been killed in the fighting, while one government soldier was killed and two injured.
A number of residents said government troops and fighters from the Sufi sect Ahlu Sunna dislodged al-Shabaab in a battle lasting about an hour.
“The fighting stopped after one hour and the al-Shabaab fighters were defeated,” said Bulo Hawo resident Ali Moalim Yasin. “I saw six dead bodies, all of them combatants.”
Another resident, Mohamed Shakur said: “The Islamists left town after they lost the battle, and the dead bodies were lying on the outskirts.”
The situation had quieted down and the government imposed a curfew at sunset, he added.
Al-Shabaab controls large swathes of southern and central Somalia and have wrested control of much of the capital, Mogadishu, where they have relentlessly attacked government and African Union forces.
The Ahlu Sunna was founded in 1991 to promote moderate Sufi Islam in Somalia. It renounced a posture of non-violence in early 2009 to take on the radical al-Shabaab and its allies from the Hezb al-Islam movement.
The Ahlu Sunna does not fully recognise Somali President Sherif Sheikh Ahmed’s transitional government but it too wants to rid Somalia of al-Shabaab and its al-Qaeda-inspired ideology.
Somalia has had no functioning central government since a civil war erupted with the 1991 overthrow of president Mohamed Siad Barre. — Sapa-AFP