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al-Shabab Savages Two Somali Towns

FILE - An Islamist fighter loyal to Somalia's al-Qaida-inspired al-Shebaab group holds his arms during military drills in a village in the Lower Shabelle region, outside Mogadishu. 2.17.2011

VOA Somali has learned from official sources that heavy fighting took place Wednesday as al-Shabab militants attacked two Somali towns close to the border with Ethiopia. VOA's Harun Maruf reports that casualty figures are unknown, as communications in that area is difficult.

Government officials have told VOA that the al-Shabab militants clashed with Liyu Police as well as members of Ethiopian paramilitary forces that have been present in Yeed and Aato, towns in Somalia’s Bakool region of Southwest State.

The Governor of Bakool Region, Mohamed Abdi Tall, confirmed to VOA the al-Shabab attack on Yeed town. Regional officials provided confirmation on the insurgent operations there and elsewhere Wednesday.

A security official requesting anonymity because he is not allowed to speak with media told VOA that al-Shabab first attacked a Liyu police camp in Aato town. Then it conducted combat operations in Yeed.

The insurgents also attacked Washaaqo village with mortars, possibly to disrupt Liyu Police reinforcements. Yeed and Aato are 45km within each other, while Washaaqo village is farther from the Ethiopia border.

A Spokesman for Al-Shabab militants Abdulaziz Abu Mus’ab claimed the group’s fighters captured both Yeed and Aato.

Authorities do not confirm this assertion.

Although these are Somali towns, there has been a large presence of Liyu Police from Ethiopia’s Somali region for many years. The Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF) operating in Somalia rely on Liyu Police for border protection, safety of supply routes and for logistical purposes.

ENDF has nearly 4000 soldiers as part of the African Union Transition Mission in Somalia (ATMIS).

Ethiopia also has an estimated several thousand personnel operating in Somalia based on a Mogadishu - Addis Ababa bilateral agreement.

This latest al-Shabab attack comes as the Prime Minister of Somalia, Hamza Abdi Barre, said Wednesday the government is determined to launch a “forceful and comprehensive” campaign to counter al-Shabab and Islamic State militants, through “military and non-military means.”

The PM said the objective is to reopen main supply routes for humanitarian efforts, commercial activities and free movement of people.

The new president of Somalia Hassan Sheikh Mohamud recently announced a new strategy to fight al-Shabab using military, ideological and economic components.

The insurgent leader, Ahmed Umar Abu Ubaidah, recently vowed to fight the new government, asserting al-Shabab will “never allow a government that is not founded upon Islam and an administration that doesn’t fully implement Sharia [law].”