Mogadishu — Heavily armed al-Shebab fighters on Sunday recaptured the town of Elbur in central Somalia after Ethiopian and pro-government Sufi militias evacuated witnesses and residents.
Residents in the town said they saw tanks and other armored vehicles leaving the town in the early hours of Sunday morning, followed by a rush of al-Shebab militias into the area.
Al-Shebab - who are they?
One witness who asked for anonymity, said the radical islamist militias,most of whom were masked, kept watchful eyes on the trenches in the town vacated by Ethiopian troops.
One al-Shebab commander who spoke to the residents said their fighters were in control of the town and that Sharia law will soon be implemented.
The stragegically-located town of Elbur had been the biggest and the most critical stronghold of al-Shebab militants in central Somalia before Ethiopian troops, along with those of the Somalia government, confiscated the town from the militants two months ago.
So far no one knows why Ethiopian troops and their Somali comrades withdrew from Elbur town, which lies just about 150 kilometers south of the Ethiopian border.
Meanwhile US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson on Sunday met with Somalia government officials in Mogadishu, marking the first official visit by a US diplomat in more than 15 years.
The meeting behind closed doors, took place in the presidential palace and was attended by both Sheikh Sharif Sheik Ahmed and Prime Minister Abdi Wali Mohamed.
Sources say the two sides discussed mainly security-related issues, like terrorists, piracy and the best way for the Somalia government to assert its control over the rest of south and central Somalia.
The surprise visit comes just four days after the US offered 26 million euros for information on the whereabouts of seven al-Shebab militant group leaders.
The state department says the group is responsible for the killing of thousands of Somali civilians, Somali peace activists, international aid workers, journalists and African Union peacekeepers.