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At least 5 fighters were killed and 7 were injured during heavy fighting between al-Shabaab insurgents and pro-government Raskamboni militias supporting Somalia's Transitional Federal Government (TFG) troops in Kulbiyow settlement of Lower Juba region, near the Kenya border.
The fighting started early Tuesday morning (1:00GMT) when al-Shabaab insurgents attacked Raskamboni bases in the settlement, residents and TFG officials confirmed.
“The fighting started early in the morning after al-Shabaab Islamic militants launched an attack on TFG and Raskamboni forces. It was a heavy attack,” TFG official Ahmed Elmi told Somalia Report.
After hours of fighting with heavy weapons, Raskamboni and TFG forces trained in Kenya were reportedly seen fleeing across the Kenyan border and al-Shabaab fighters were seen entering the settlement, which is a strategic location on the road leading from Kenya into Juba region via Badhaadhe. Previously it was the main stronghold of Hassan Turki, an ally of Hassan Aweys, the former Hizbul Islam leader whose forces merged with the Al Shabaab.
Raskamboni spokesman Abdi Nasir Seyrar said they did not flee, but they moved out of the area as a military tactic.
On May 15th, TFG forces along with Raskamboni fighters took over the border village of Kulbiyow without resistance from al-Shabaab fighters who vacated after receiving information that allied forces were on their way.
Conflicting Numbers of Casualties
As is typical with such fighting in Somalia, reports of dead and injured vary by locals, government officials and insurgents.
Locals: "5 fighters died. 3 of the dead were al-Shabaab while 2 others were from Raskamboni militias. There are bodies," sources in Kulbiyow told Somalia Report.
Raskamboni: "At least 5 people were killed, including 2 civilians, and 4 others were wounded in the fighting of Kulbiyow settlement on Tuesday," according to officials from the Raskamboni group.
Al-Shabaab: Al-shabaab spokesman Abdi Aziz Abumuscab claimed that, "we killed 9 of them - the government and Raskamboni. Mujahideen will fight and we will defend the Islam law," while speaking to reporters in Mogadishu.
Kenya: Kenya's North-Eastern Provincial Commissioner James Ole Serian said 7 fighters were injured brought into Hullugho dispensary, where they are undergoing treatment before been transported to Ijara District hospital for specialized treatment.
“We are aware of heavy fighting going on in Kulbiyow, which is nine kilometers away from our border, between forces loyal to TFG and the al-Shabaab militia. So far there are seven casualties who sustained various gun wounds and are being treated at our Hullugho Dispensary," said the PC.
“I cannot confirm who the casualties are. I can only tell you they are those who were fighting and not civilians. As country we are allowing them to be treated in our facility on humanitarian grounds,” he explained when asked whether it was true those treated in Kenya health facility were TFG solders.
However, a senior Kenya provincial administration who requested anonymity told Somalia Report on phone that the 4 killed persons and the 7 injured currently been treated in Hullugho Dispensary were all soldiers of Transition Federal Government, which enjoys moral and military supports from then Kenyan government.
The fighting also saw the displacement of hundreds of civilians fleeing from the skirmishes sparked off for the control of the Somali border town.
Panicking residents of Hullugho town in Ijara district, a town less than 9 kilometers away from Kulbiyow are reported to have deserted the town to neigbouring villages to avoid be in caught by astray bullets.
Most of Kulbiyow residents fled from the settlement late this month after fighting between both sides escalated the region.
The fighting comes barely a week after the TFG Deputy Minister for Defense Col. Abdirashid Mohamed Hidig visited the border town with a Kenyan senior security officer in-charge of the operation and security on Kenya/Somali border towns, to open a Military Training Camp in Sinia town in Kulbiyow district.
Abdulahi Hassan, government officer in Dhobley, told Somalia Report that both government forces and Raskamboni agreed to unite.