Somalia’s al-Shabab loses key Bardere stronghold

The militants left Bardere overnight, allowing the town to be re-taken without a fight


 Somali forces backed by African Union troops have retaken one of the last remaining strongholds of Islamist militant group al-Shabab.

Kenyan and Somali government soldiers entered south-western Bardere town, which has been under al-Shabab control since 2008, backed by heavy weapons and air support, residents told the BBC.

A Somali army commander told the BBC troops took the town without a fight. Pro-al-Shabab media have also confirmed the loss of the town. The al-Qaeda-linked group is battling Somalia’s government for control of the country. A drone strike in the same town last week killed two al-Shabab commanders, residents said.

Thousands of soldiers from Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia have been advancing on Bardere over the past few days.

“We did not meet any resistance. There were only small skirmishes. This is not a force that the extremists can resist,” Somali Col Abbaas Ibrahim Gurey told the BBC’s Somali Service.

Residents who remained in the town told the BBC by phone that some fighting had taken place outside Bardere.

The loss of the town, which is near the Juba River about 460km (285 miles) west of the capital Mogadishu, will be a big blow to the group, BBC Somalia analyst Mohammed Mohammed says.

It will lose the financial benefits brought by controlling an area rich in agriculture and will also lose access to roads that link to other parts of the country and to neighbouring Kenya and Ethiopia, he says.

African Union (AU) troops have been in the country since 2007 helping various UN-backed governments fight al-Shabab – and there is now a force of more than 21,000 in the country.

Kenyan soldiers joined the AU mission after 2011 when al-Shabab fighters crossed the long, porous border and kidnapped several people, including tourists.

Al-Shabab has staged several attacks in Kenya in retaliation, including the siege of a university campus in Garissa in April and an attack on the Westgate shopping centre in Nairobi in 2013.

The AU and Somali military have recently been stepping up their operations in the Gedo region in order to recapture Bardere.

Over the last four years, the militants have been driven from most of the key towns they once held but they still control rural areas in the south.

Somalia has seen clan-based warlords, rival politicians and Islamist militants battle for control since the fall of long-serving ruler Siad Barre in 1991.

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