At least two Somali soldiers and 12 militants were killed Friday when al-Shabab militants attacked a convoy in central Somalia, according to a senior regional official.
Militants ambushed a convoy carrying the Hiran regional governor, Ali Jeyte Osman, and other top military officials, near Hees Village, about 80 kilometers northwest of the regional capital, Beledweyn.
"We have killed 12 of them and ... we lost two soldiers," General Ahmed Mohamed Tredishe, commander of the Somali National Army in the region, told VOA Somali.
He said the governor and others traveling with him survived the attack and continued their travels.
Meanwhile, militants loyal to the al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab militant group are said to be fleeing northward toward Somalia's semi-autonomous Puntland region.
"We have received reports of movements by armed al-Shabab militants fleeing from U.S. strikes in and around the region from southern Somalia," said Tredishe.
Villagers and pastoralists have told Somali radio stations over the past two days that they spotted militants with haggard faces who appeared to have abandoned their bases in the south.
The U.S. has carried out at least 30 air, missile and drone strikes in Somalia this year. Seven of those strikes took place between November 9 and 14, with two aimed at Islamic State militants in Somalia.
Simultaneously, the Somali National Army and African Union troops have conducted smaller operations to flush out al-Shabab militants from their main supply routes close to Mogadishu, ahead of a larger-scale offensive promised by the Somali government.
Former al-Shabab leader returns
Meanwhile, in the southern Somali town of Baidoa, hundreds of residents have welcomed a longtime militant leader who defected from al-Shabab before surrendering to the government in August.
Mukhtar Robow Ali, also known as Abu Mansour, returned to his home region Friday, telling his supporters he has come back with something valuable.
"You will hear from me about that valuable thing soon," Robow said.
Robow did not elaborate, but sources say he has agreed with the Somali government to join the fight against extremism and the militants he once led. Robow was a cofounder of al-Shabab in 2006 and was the group's deputy emir before breaking with the group's late supreme leader, Ahmed Godane, in 2011.