Somalia: Al-Shabab seizes major areas near capital
BALAD, Somalia - Al-Shabaab militants seized small towns in the south of the country early on Saturday after they were abandoned by Somali national army [SNA] and AU troops, Garowe Online reports.
Ahmed Hussein, a local resident confirmed to Garowe Online that heavily armed fighters with a dozen battle wagons have wrested control of Yaqle, Dhagahow and Kooreebe areas without encountering resistance.
AMISOM and Somali military forces had pulled out of the towns and retreated in disarray to nearby Balad district in Middle Shabelle region, approximately 30 kilometers [18 miles] north of Mogadishu.
"That same minute of the allied troops' sudden withdrawal, al Shabaab entered to control the villages... The situation is now calm and al Shabaab fighters are in every part of the town," said Hussein.
It was not immediately clear why the military and AMISOM had withdrawn from the key areas. The move comes amid rising in Al Shabaab attacks in the region.
Al Shabaab is fighting to topple Somalia's Western-backed Federal Government based in Mogadishu which is protected by 22,000 African Union soldiers from Uganda, Burundi, Kenya, Ethiopia, and Djibouti.
The group was ejected from Mogadishu in 2011 and has since been chased from most of its other strongholds across the country.
But it remains a formidable threat, with its fighters frequently carrying out bombings against both civilian and military targets in Mogadishu and other towns in Somalia.
The militants also conduct regular attacks across the border into neighboring Kenya, which they want to pressure into withdrawing its contingent from AMISOM.