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Dozens of Somali Forces and Militants Die in Forest Clashes

FILE - Hundreds of newly trained al-Shabab fighters perform military exercises in the Lafofe area, Feb.17, 2011.
FILE - Hundreds of newly trained al-Shabab fighters perform military exercises in the Lafofe area, Feb.17, 2011.

MOGADISHU - At least 30 pro-government fighters and dozens of al-Shabaab militants were killed in Somalia in some of the bloodiest fighting of a year-long offensive against the al-Qaida-linked group, an army officer and clan elder said on Thursday.

The clashes happened on Wednesday in the Shabellow forest. They were the latest demonstration of the uphill task faced by Somali troops and allied militiamen in their efforts to root out al-Shabaab, which has been waging an insurgency since 2006.

A military campaign launched last year by the army and
allied clan-based militias in central Somalia seized significant swathes of land from al-Shabaab.
Despite the reported earlier progress, the seizures have registered mixed results of late.

Although government forces captured several major
towns, al-Shabaab reclaimed some of the lost territory and conducted deadly raids on military bases.

Last month, Somalia's government asked the United Nations to pause a planned drawdown of 3,000 African Union peacekeepers due to "several significant setbacks" on the battlefield.
Major Ahmed Nur, a Somalian security official said the Horn of Africa nation drove back al-Shabaab fighters in the Shabellow forest on Wednesday but were later surprised by sniper fire.

"We killed al-Shabaab like flies, but when we tried to take
the weapons from their dead, hidden snipers took out our men," Nur said.
30 government soldiers and allied militiamen were
killed, while 55 al Shabaab fighters died, he added.
The security official said 10 of his colleagues were injured on Thursday when a helicopter - believed to be operated by one of Somalia's foreign allies - mistakenly bombed them.
Abdullahi Mohamed, a local clan elder said 33 pro-government fighters and "dozens" of al-Shabaab militants were killed.

The current phase of the offensive against al-Shabaab focuses on central Somalia. The government promises a second phase that will go after the group in its strongholds in the country's south, where analysts say the group will be even harder to defeat.