(AFP) MOGADISHU — Somali government forces attacked a base of the Al Qaeda-linked Shebab Wednesday in a village near the Ethiopian border, sparking clashes that left at least 21 combatants dead, officials said.
“The fighting broke out in a village near Yed district after our forces attacked the terrorists,” Colonel Mohamed Ali, a local government security official, told AFP.
Machine guns, artillery and anti-aircraft weapons were used in the fighting in Habow, a village near the border with the Shebab’s arch-foe Ethiopia that lies northwest of the capital Mogadishu.
“It was the heaviest fighting in this region and we killed many of their fighters,” Ali said, adding that his side lost seven soldiers in the six hours of fighting.
“At least 21 combatants from both sides were killed in the clashes and the number could be higher because there are dead bodies that still haven’t been retrieved from the battlefield,” local elder Hasan Moalim Mohamud said.
“Communications in the area are bad but the information we are getting is that the Shebab fighters still control the area,” he added.
Madker Isak, another elder from the nearby district of Rabdhure, said the Shebab had sent reinforcements to the area.
“I saw the dead bodies of several Shebab fighters and others who were injured being taken away on a truck. There were four other trucks going in the other direction bringing fighters to the frontline,” Isak said.
“The village where the fighting took place is only 20 kilometres from the Ethiopian border and there were some Ethiopian officials who were helping the Somali government forces in the fighting,” said Mohamed Awdinle, another elder.
“I know that more than 20 people died,” he added.
Ethiopia, which invaded Somalia in 2006 to topple the Islamist movement that gave birth to the Shebab and pulled out in 2009, has been repeatedly accused of crossing the border to assist the government.
The embattled Western-backed government controls only a few blocks in Mogadishu, thanks mainly to the protection of a Ugandan-led African Union force, and a few pockets elsewhere in the country.
The Shebab and its allies from the smaller Hezb al-Islam group control 80 percent of Somalia and launched a bruising military offensive in May 2009 to topple the government and complete their power grab.