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As a sweeping military offensive enters its second day on the outskirts of the Somali capital Mogadishu, hundreds of government troops alongside African Union peacekeepers (AMISOM) today reached Arbiska, near Afgoye in Lower Shabelle region.
Allied troops backed by military tanks and armored vehicles moved deep into the outskirts early on Wednesday after deadly fighting broke out in the al-Shabaab strongholds of Elasha-Biyaha, Siinka, Lafoole, and Arbiska.
At least 11 people were killed, including seven civilians, according to a residents in Lafoole who spoke to Somalia Report.
“I don’t know how many people died, but I can assure you that three people are dead in Kahda where the fighting started today," Luul Ali, a resident in Kahda, told Somalia Report.
Somali forces allegedly also shot eight civillians on the way at Boqolka cemetery of Boqolka village on suspicion of being al-Shabaab fighters fleeing. Four of the the eight people died and the other four were taken to Madina Hospital in Mogadishu.
Somalia’s third army commander, Colonel Abdullah Ageey, confirmed government troops have reached Arbiska and are heading to Afgoye with in the next hours.
“I’m speaking to you from Arbiska, which is close to Afgoye. We have clashed with the Al-Qaeda fighters for hours here before we attacked today. They have tried to defend themselves, but we forced them to run away and they are firing shots at us from a distance over there. We will be continuing to pursue them wherever they go, and we hope to cross into Afgoye with hours," said Colonel Ageey.
Residents in Afgoye town told Somalia Report that they have seen al-Shabaab convoys heading to Walaweyn, 90km from Mogadishu.
“I have seen large convoys of al-Shabaab fighters fleeing from the outskirts of Mogadishu. While I was on my way to work, I saw them heading towards Walaweyn district," one resident in Afgoye town told Somalia Report.
Other sources claimed that al-Shabaab's top leaders, Fuad Shongole, Hassan Dahir Aweys and Ali Dheere, all fled to Marka, south of Mogadishu, yesterday. Somalia Report, however, has been unable to confirm these claims.
Radio Andalus radio, run by al-Shabaab, went off the air last night before the allied forces could reach the station.
“Equipment from Andlus radio station was removed last night by the fighters, but it is not yet clear where they took it," said Abdikadir Mohamuud, a resident in Siinka.
The fighting has blocked the strategic road which links between Afgoye and Mogadishu and has caused a massive displacement of people since the first round of this offensive started on Monday.
Al-Shabaab has not yet commented on today's offensive, the largest to be conducted in the area since al-Shabaab vacated the capital last August.