Al-Shabaab militants seize strategic towns after Uganda, Ethiopia troops withdraw

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"Masked al-Shabaab fighters, who were walking in large numbers, took control of the town,” a resident of Buq Aqable said.

SOMALIA’S Al-Shabaab fighters took control of a second strategic town in Somalia after African Union peacekeeping troops withdrew, residents of Buq Aqable in the central Hiran region said. 

The Islamist militants also took over the southern town of Kurtunwarey on Sept. 4 when soldiers left after an attack three days earlier on an African Union military base at Janaale near the capital, Mogadishu. 

The Ugandan army, which has more than 6,200 troops supporting Somalia’s government against the insurgents, said 12 of its men were killed in that strike. 

Uganda has denied reports quoting western sources, who said up to 50 of its peacekeeper troops had been killed in the Janaale attack, and possibly up to 50 went missing.

READ: Al-Shabaab attack on Somalia AU base kills 50 Ugandan troops, another 50 missing: Western sources

“Masked al-Shabaab fighters, who were walking in large numbers, took control of the town,” Hassan Geele, a resident of Buq Aqable, told Bloomberg by phone on Sunday. 

Ethiopian soldiers left the town 90 kilometers (56 miles) south of Beledweyne early Sunday morning, Guled Mohamed, a Somali army officer in Hiran, said by phone. 

Until a few weeks ago, were suffering a string of losses and seemed close to defeat after losing territory in the face of repeated African Union and Somali government offensives, regular US drone strikes against their leaders and defections.

It’s not clear whether the Shabaab’s attacks indicate a resurgence, or the downside of mission creep on the part of AMISOM. The Uganda independent newspaper Sunday Monitor reported that the country’s troops in Somalia hadn’t been paid for nine months, although a military spokesman is quoted by the paper saying the arrears were for five months. The report suggested that non-payment had affected troop morale.

The African Union peacekeeping mission, known as Amisom, first deployed troops to Somalia when Ugandan troops landed in Mogadishu in March 2007. Burundi started sending troops in December 2007.

The AU mission now forces from Uganda, Burundi, Djibouti, Kenya and Ethiopia.

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