The Reporter (Addis Ababa)

Ethiopia: Amisom Forces Free More Al-Shabaab Seized Settlements

The African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) peace keeping force, which was joined by Ethiopian troops and is fighting alongside Somali government forces,

have captured a sixth settlement in the latest advance in their renewed offensive against Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Shabaab fighters, a spokesman said on Friday. According to media reports, Al-Shabaab gunmen are reported to have fled ahead of the assault on Thursday on the small town of Buula Burde, in the southern Hiran region bordering Ethiopia, Ali Houmed, spokesman of the African Union's AMISOM force, said.

Earlier this week the leader of Al-Shabaab urged Somalis to wage holy war against Ethiopia, whose forces are preparing to lead an African Union offensive against the militants.

However, spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Dina Mufti, told The Reporter that the Ethiopian government does not consider the latest call by Al-Shabaab adding that it was "nothing new."

Dina further said, "There is no way for the government to see it as an issue since such a propaganda call from Al-Shabaab is something usually done by this terrorist group."

Ethiopia fought in Somalia in 2006 to2009 but sent troops back in 2011 to fight Al-Shabaab. In 2013 it became part of AMISOM, a 22,000-strong AU peacekeeping force that includes troops from Kenya, Uganda, Burundi and Sierra Leone.

In the latest development, quoting Somalia officials, AFP reported yesterday from Mogadishu that "there was some fighting at the entrance to the town as Al-Shabaab tried to ambush and attack our forces, but they did not last long". "Their forces disappeared as we advanced to secure the town,"AFP added. Hardline al-Shabaab insurgents once controlled most of southern and central Somalia but withdrew from fixed positions in Mogadishu two years ago. However, reports still indicate that guerrilla units stage regular deadly attacks in the capital Mogadishu, and claimed responsibility for last year's deadly attack in neighboring Kenya when commandos stormed the upmarket Westgate mall, shooting shoppers and hurling grenades. Government and AU troops have also come under repeated hit and run attacks in rural areas surrounding the settlements they capture. AMISOM chief Mahamat Saleh Annadif boasted that the capture of Buula Burde was "a major victory," in a statement released late Thursday, calling the dusty settlement a "supply nerve center" for Al-Shabaab. After a series of sweeping victories in 2012, AMISOM had remained largely static, hampered by limited troops and air power. But the UN-mandated force launched a new offensive earlier this month against the Islamist fighters, after Ethiopian soldiers joined to push troop numbers to 22 000. The UN reports that thousands of civilians are fleeing to escape expected fighting, warning that the offensive is expected to "directly affect scores of districts and regions" where some three million people live.

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