A dawn attack on the southern town of Beled-Hawo started with a suicide car bombing targeting government troops’ frontline defenses. A gunfight then followed between al-Shabab fighters and Somali government troops, according to Col. Osman Ali, a military officer based in the town.
Some Somali soldiers fled across the border into Kenya before returning to recapture the town from al-Shabab fighters, who had retreated amid airstrikes by the Kenyan military, he said.
Many civilians ran for their lives across the town’s sandy streets when al-Shabab briefly took control of the town, said Beled-Hawo resident Mohamed Hashi.
“We woke up to find masked men on our streets,” he said, in a phone interview with The Associated Press.
Al-Shabab, which is fighting to create a strict Islamic state in Somalia, still controls some rural areas in the south and central regions of the country. The group frequently carries out attacks in the capital, where on Monday one civilian was killed and three others injured in a car bomb blast, according to police officer Capt. Mohamed Hussein.
The car had been parked near a hotel on the busy Maka Almukarramah Street in Mogadishu, he said.
A 22,000-strong multinational African Union force known as AMISOM has been helping to support Somalia’s fragile central government after more than two decades as a failed state. Both AMISOM and the U.S. military are trying to prepare Somalia’s armed forces to take over the country’s security before AMISOM’s planned departure by the end of 2020.
Al-Shabab has vowed to step up attacks after the recently elected government of President Mohamed Abdullahi “Farmajo” Mohamed launched a new military offensive against it. The insurgents also face a new military push from the United States as President Donald Trump has approved expanded operations, including airstrikes.