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UPDATED ON FRIDAY, OCTOBER 21 WITH HEAVY AMISOM CASUALTIES, MORE FIGHTING
African Union and Somali government troops on Thursday pushed al-Shabaab out of Mogadishu's Daynile district, while pro-government and Kenyan forces took over the coastal area of Ras Kamboni and vowed to push on to Kismayo, putting even more pressure on the beleaguered insurgent group.
However, the gains in Mogadishu came at a heavy cost, with al-Shabaab displaying the bodies of over 50 soldiers, many of them peacekeepers, killed in an ambush, and fighting restarted with a vengeance on Friday as al-Shabaab pushed back, making good on its promise to attempt to regain a strong foothold in Mogadishu.
The AU and government forces on Thursday took Daynile police station and other areas in the district - the last strong base of al-Shabaab left in the city after the insurgents’ withdrawal from many areas, and the gradual erosion of remaining territory.
"I saw vehicles, including, tanks, flooding into Daynile district from different areas,” Daynile resident Mohamed Dahir told Somalia Report.
At least four civilian were killed in the latest clashes, according to the residents and witnesses.
The number of combatants killed was unclear, but a junior al-Shabaab member called Abu-Muhsin in Daynile told Somalia Report they were resisting.
“We killed several of their soldiers, both the African troops and the so-called Somali troops, whom we see as mercenaries for the infidels,” he said.
Al-Shabaab military spokesman, Abdi Aziz Mus'ab claimed the insurgents had killed more than 50 troops, many of them from the AU. Al-Shabaab in Elasha Biyaha paraded dozens of bodies of combatants, which it had brought by truck to the area on the outskirts of Mogadishu. Pictures run on a pro-al-Shabaab radio station showed a huge crowd gathering to observe the bodies, which were piled in two long lines.
AMISOM spokesman Paddy Ankunda said only ten peacekeepers were killed, and two had gone missing. From the pictures of the bodies, which stretch off into the distance, it is impossible to tell how many of the dead are AU and how many are TFG.
In an offensive earlier this year, almost 50 peacekeepers were believed to have been killed, but AMISOM at that point also refused to officially reveal how many men they lost.
The state-run Radio Mogadishu reported that scores of al-Shabaab members were killed in the ongoing offensives, as many others fled to the outskirts of Mogadishu. Daynile residents said government forces were conducting house-to-house searches, and had arrested several suspected al-Shabaab sympathizers.
The chief of the Somali national forces for the TFG, General Abdikarin Yusuf Aden, told Somalia Report that "many" al-Shabaab fighters had been killed and that much of Daynile was now under control.
However, on Friday the picture appeared to change again.
“Al-Shabaab launched a counter-attack on late Thursday and government troops were pushed back,” Nur Mohamed, a government official, told Somalia Report.
Government and AU peacekeeping forces sent additional reinforcements to the front line, and almost all of the main streets of the capital were filled by fully equipped armed forces heading to Daynile, where fighting raged.
“We cannot hold up our heads, as mortars shells and stray bullets are flying everywhere,” Abdirizak Mohamed Elmi, a resident in Daynile, told Somalia Report
Al-Shabaab insurgents are reportedly back in Daynile police station, using it as their main operations center. Newly recruited al-Shabaab fighters from Lower Shabelle, Bay and Bakool regions joined the battle. Those who were able fled the district, but many were forced to hunker down at home and hope for the best.
Southern Somalia offensives
Elsewhere on Thursday, TFG forces and pro-government militia Ras Kamboni, with support from Kenyan forces, reached the strategic coastal district of the same name, Ras Kamboni, south of the al-Shabaab stronghold of Kismayo.
Al-Shabaab withdrew, allowing the pro-government forces to move in without a fight.
“Today we reached the biggest base of al-Shabaab in southern Somalia, and in the next hours we are expecting to be in Afmadow, Kulbiyow, Badhadhe and Gudha districts,” TFG military spokesman in Gedo, Lower and Middle juba regions, Mohamed Dahir Farah, told Somalia Report. “Kenya is supporting us logistically. The operations are going on from two fronts, the coast and Afmadow side; our troops are 7 kilometers from Afmadow and will enter the district since the terrorists ran away.”
Ras Kamboni is a strategic district, which al-Shabaab used to train recruits, and was also a base for al-Qaeda-linked foreign fighters.
Al-Shabaab is now under heavy pressure after Kenya sent in forces. Kenya lost patience with its neighbor after the kidnapping of British tourist Judith Tebbutt, Frenchwoman Marie Dedieu (who died in captivity this week) from the Lamu area, and two Spanish aid workers from the Dadaab refugee complex. Kenya is looking to create a buffer zone along its border, in large part to protect its crucial tourism industry from financial damage.
Kenya's army spokesman Major Emmanuel Chirchir told Somalia Report that taking Afamadow would allow Kenyan and pro-government forces to approach Kismayo, al-Shabaab's stronghold port town, to achieve the goal of finishing the insurgent group and protecting Kenya's interests.
"We ... were able to secure the town of Ras Kamboni. We did this without al-Shabaab putting up any resistance," he said. "This gives us an advantage to allow the coastal approach to Kismayo, and to deny pirates and stop any advantage al-Shabaab may get from that."
"This is not a war; this is an operation to defeat al-Shabaab and pirates along Kenyan-Somali waters, to create conditions for the TFG and people of Somalia to conduct business and also guarantee the security of the Kenyan people."
Local residents told Somalia Report that Kenyan forces were based in Taabta, Qoqani and Dhobley districts, and were heading to Afmadow district. Previous reports said that al-Shabaab had abandoned Afmadow, leaving it for the pro-government forces to take. However, Reuters news agency on Thursday said insurgents were still in Afmadow and were prepared to put up a fight.
“Huge numbers of Kenyan military vehicles and helicopters entered this region over the last six days ... more than 25 vehicles and helicopters left from Dhobley to Afmadow,” Dadir Ahmed in Dhobley told Somalia Report.
However, Chirchir said that Kenyan forces had not left Qoqani due to the bad weather. Heavy rains and mud have held up the progress of Kenya's tanks and foot soldiers.
The Major said that this was not a major concern, and that the goal was to ensure complete control and not leave behind any corridor for al-Shabaab to move around in - something that he said Ethiopia - whose invasion in late 2006 sparked the insurgency and ended in a pullout - did not do.