Fighting intensifies in border town as troops launch counter-offensive
MOGADISHU, Somalia - Heavy gunfight is still going on at Beled-Hawo town on the Kenya-Somalia border, which was recaptured by Jubaland state forces late last night after an attack.
The strategic region has been a battlefield for the fight between Jubaland forces and the Somali army for the last year as both warring sides seek to gain full control.
The conflict had escalated last year when the Federal Government of Somalia dispatched GorGor troops to the Gedo region, a move which irked the Jubaland administration under president Ahmed Madobe, leading to a series of retaliatory attacks.
For the better part of Monday morning, the SNA troops and Jubaland forces were embroiled in a heavy gunfight which started around 1 am local time, as both parties try to wrestle for the control of the strategic town, which is key entry to the Gedo region.
In a statement, the Federal government of Somalia claimed a group of "militia" based in Kenya tried to take over Baled-Hawo on Sunday night but was overpowered by government forces. The loyal troops, it added, managed to recover illegally imported sophisticated weapons besides flushing away the Jubaland security forces.
But videos taken from the town early Monday morning showed Jubaland security forces in control of several parts of the town as gunfight continued from the background. The soldiers were heard shouting that "we are in control" as they fired on air.
Preliminary reports indicate that at least five members of the same family have been killed following the battle between the two sides. It's not clear who fired at the innocent civilians, but they could be collateral damage as fighting spilled into various villages.
Jubaland Vice President Mohamud Sayid Aden told the BBC Somali Service that: "We are in full control of Balad-Hawa " after "defeating forces airlifted from Mogadishu". Fighting is reportedly ongoing as SNA maintains it has taken control of the town.
The federal government and Jubaland previously fought over the control of the town in March last year. At the time government forces had the upper hand, even as it accused Kenya Defense Forces of helping the Jubaland troops to control the region.
Abdirashid Janan, the Jubaland security minister is reportedly leading the assault against SNA troops. The minister, who has been operating from Mandera despite contrary reports by Kenya, has often accused the federal government of an "illegal" takeover of Gedo.
The US and European Union are among the entities which warned against the fighting between the two parties, arguing that it would give room for Al-Shabaab resurgence. The Al-Shabaab still controls sections of Gedo which is under the KDF and Ethiopian troops.