Heavy fighting broke out Thursday in the Somali capital Mogadishu, after government forces backed by African Union troops launched an assault against a stronghold of the hardline Shebab insurgents, officials and witnesses said.
“There is heavy fighting this morning in several locations, it is too early to say about casualty numbers, but there are some civilians who were injured in the crossfire,” said Ali Muse, the head of Mogadishu’s ambulance service.
Fighting erupted near the city’s key Bakara market and Suqbacad areas, with both sides exchanging fire using heavy machine gunsand artillery.
The clashes come just a day after the UN World Food Programme began an airlift of emergency relief into the war-torn capital, to bring supplies for thousands at risk of starvation from an extreme drought in the Horn of Africa.
Witnesses told AFP that the AU troops and tanks crossed a road that has acted as a frontline between the two sides, and moved into the Suqbacad area.
“The fighting is very heavy and there are tanks belonging to the AU forces,” said Muktar Ahmed, a resident of the Suqbacad neighbourhood.
“The few people who still were in the area have now started to flee,” he added.
Shebab Islamists have vowed to topple the Western backed transitional government, and chase out the African Union force in Somalia (AMISOM) troops supporting it.
The Al-Qaeda inspired Shebab have been losing ground in the capital in recent months as pro-government troops and AMISOM have clawed their way back to several key positions.