MOGADISHU (AFP)— Hundreds of heavily armed Ethiopian troops advanced into a central Somali town Saturday with the aim of attacking the main stronghold of the Al Qaeda-linked Shebab militia in the region, witnesses said.
A convoy of battle trucks drove into Dhusamareb, which is under the control of a pro-government Somali militia, ahead of a planned attack on the Shebab-controlled town of El Bur, 100 kilometres (60 miles) away, local residents said.
“The Ethiopian troops in at least 50 trucks entered Dhusamareb this morning. Their target this time seems to be El Bur district, which is the main base of the Al-Shebab” in central Somalia, said Abdulahi Ahmed, an elder in Dhusamareb.
The Shebab commander in the region, Sheik Adan Farey, confirmed the military movement, saying his fighters were ready for the Ethiopians.
“The invading Christian mercenaries from Ethiopia entered Dhusamareb. Whatever their intentions are, we will defeat them,” Farey told AFP by phone.
Ethiopian troops have captured Baidoa and Hudur, two key Shebab towns in southern Somalia, since deploying into the war-torn country in November.
Ethiopia’s latest incursion is the second in five years. They toppled an Islamist movement after deploying in 2006, but they withdrew in 2009 after the group’s hardline fighters — the Shebab — mounted a bruising guerrilla war.
Now the Shebab are facing increasing pressure from regional armies, with Kenyan troops in the far south and a 10,000-strong African Union force battling them in the capital Mogadishu.
The Shebab were ousted from Dhusamareb on Tuesday hours after they captured it from the pro-government militia Ahlu Sunna in fierce fighting.
The Shebab and other armed groups control large swathes of the south of the lawless Horn of Africa nation, which has had no effective central government since the ouster of president Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991.