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Terrorism & Security

Somali government launches new offensive

The latest battle comes as government forces try to regain territory that militants seized last week.

By / May 22, 2009

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Several people are dead and dozens wounded in the Somali capital of Mogadishu as Somali government forces launch a new offensive against the Islamist rebels who have been in control of the region.

The BBC reports that the Friday's battles are the latest in 10 days of fighting between government forces and two militant groups, Al Shabab and Hizbul Islam, which have left more than 100 civilians dead.  The new fighting is over territory seized from the government last week by Islamist rebels.

The BBC's Mohamed Olad Hassan, in Mogadishu, says the pro-government forces have launched a massive military offensive against the insurgents.
Most of the fighting is focusing around one of the city's main roads, Wadnaha, he says.
African Union peacekeepers based in the capital to support the fragile administration are not involved in the attack, he adds. The 4,300-strong force does not have a mandate to pursue the insurgents.

Somalia's Western-backed government and Islamist rebels have been fighting for control over the country for almost two decades. The rebels seized control of Mogadishu in 2006, but were ousted by Ethiopian soldiers, fighting on behalf of the Somali government, later that year.  However, the Ethiopian forces withdrew in December 2008, and a new unity government was formed in January under transitional President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed.  But while the moderate Mr. Sharif agreed to institute Islamic law, or sharia, in Somalia to appease hard-line Islamists, the rebels remained opposed to the government and have since been making strides to retake the capital.

The Associated Press reports that the government's military commander, Lt. Yusuf Osman Dumal, said Friday's fighting started when the rebels attacked government positions.  Mogadishu residents, however, said that the attack appeared to be a planned government offensive.

Resident Abdi Haji said hundreds of government troops had attacked positions held by Islamist fighters in the south and north of the Somali capital. He said there was heavy shelling around Wadnaha road, which the government lost to Islamist fighters earlier this month. Wadnaha connects the north and south of the city and is one of the four major roads in Mogadishu.

Agence France-Presse writes that government and Islamist spokesmen disagree about the success of government forces in Friday's fighting.

[Government military spokesman Farhan Mahdi Mohamed] said one soldier was wounded and claimed government forces had regained control of three areas of the capital – Tarbunka, Bakara and Howlwadag – previously held by the insurgents.
A spokesman for the rebels, who call themselves the Shebab or Party of Youth, denied the claim.
"The enemy of Allah attacked our positions this morning and our fighters are defending themselves. They have not taken any positions from us," said Sheikh Ali Mohamoud Rage.

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