Al-Shabaab fighters armed with machine-guns and rocket-propelled grenades attacked two towns in Somalia’s Lower Shabelle region, culminating in the capture of the two neighboring districts of Awdhegle and Mubarak, witnesses and combatants said.
The militants raided checkpoints manned by Somali forces shortly before dawn, Da’ud Qaylow, a resident of Awdhegle, said by phone. Ali Sharif, an officer with the Somali army, said the rebel forces attacked their positions in Awdhegle when most soldiers were asleep. An unidentified al-Shabaab commander told Radio Andalus, a Somali broadcaster that supports the militants, that they killed at least 10 government troops.
“Within a short period of time, the militants managed to corner us and finally captured the whole town when our forces ran for their lives,” Sharif said. The fighting spread to nearby Mubarak, where the rebels also overran the army, he said.
The al-Qaeda-linked group has been in retreat in the Horn of Africa nation since its fighters were forced to withdraw from the capital, Mogadishu, in August 2011 after a series of military defeats. Al-Shabaab still controls swathes of territory and stages deadly gun and bomb attacks.
Hassan Mohamed, another officer with the army, said the militants beheaded three injured soldiers who were unable to flee.