AU troops battle al-Shabab in outer Mogadishu

African Union forces backed by tanks meet fierce resistance in campaign to secure capital's outskirts for first time.

    Intense fighting has raged in Somalia's capital with African Union (AU) peacekeepers encountering fierce resistance from al-Shabab fighters as they pushed to Mogadishu's outskirts for the first time.

    Supported by tanks, the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), said on Friday that it had driven the fighters out of the coastal city's Mogadishu University as well as the Barakaat cemetery, leaving the two sites under government control.

    "This is the first time AMISOM has been able to secure an area outside the parameters of the city, allowing them to defend greater Mogadishu from the exterior," Paddy Ankunda, AMISOM spokesman, said in a statement.

    The al-Shabab fighters, who pulled most of their troops out of the capital in August, but still hold pockets of territory
    on the northern outskirts, acknowledged losing ground, but said they had trapped the advancing force.

    Deaths reported

    Hundreds of residents fled a northern Mogadishu neighbourhood after waking to the sound of mortars and gunfire.

    A witness reported heavy gunfire shortly before encountering five dead government soldiers, including a commander.

    Moments earlier, an armoured vehicle ferrying five wounded peacekeepers away from the battle zone passed by, its front tyres blown out and its smashed windscreen stained with blood.

    Tanks and armoured vehicles were called in to reinforce the troops ambushed by al-Shabab fighters.

    "Now we have besieged the Mogadishu University building and we swear these AMISOM forces will not have a way out," Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab, a spokesman for al-Shabab, told the Reuters news agency.

    Al-Shabab said they had killed 13 Ugandan peacekeepers, which Ankunda denounced as a lies although he acknowledged one soldier was likely to die from his wounds.

    The armed Islamist group has waged a bloody five-year campaign to topple the Western-backed government.

    AMISOM increase

    The nearly 10,000-strong AU force was confined in previous years to small sections of Mogadishu, but the push to expand their zones of control over the last year has been largely successful.

    The AU force is working side by side with Somali troops, but most of the gains have been made by the better trained and equipped troops from Uganda and Burundi.

    Al-Shabab is also being pressured by Kenyan military forces in Somalia's south and Ethiopian forces in the west.

    East African nations want the UN Security Council to authorise an increase in the number of troops inside AMISOM to 17,000. Kenya has also asked the UN for its forces inside Somalia to be integrated into the AU.

    Al-Shabab continues to carry out suicide and roadside bomb attacks in Mogadishu.

    At least six bombs have been found, or exploded, in the capital since Wednesday, including a blast on Thursday that killed six people.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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