AU troops say seize Somalia al Shabaab base

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MOGADISHU – African Union and Somali government troops seized control of an al Shabaab insurgent base in the north of the capital on Friday, a move the AU troops said would reduce the rebels’ capacity to launch attacks in the city.

The capture of the Maslah training camp means that the AU Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and the Transitional Federal Government now control the main road linking Mogadishu to central Somalia.

The government has already captured the main road from the capital to the southern towns.

“In a swift move that started this morning, the Uganda Contingent helped capture Maslah which the extremists have been using as a base to launch attacks on the city,” AMISOM said in a statement.

AMISOM Force Commander, Maj. Gen. Fred Mugisha said the operation “extended the city’s defenses and will deny the terrorists important ground from which they have been attacking the population.”

The coordinator of ambulance services in Mogadishu, Ali Musa, said at least five civilians, some of them children, were killed and ten others were wounded in the exchange of shellfire.

“The groups are inhumanely fighting over the civilians who have just fled from al Shabaab areas,” he told Reuters.

“I am sure the death toll is higher – we have not reached all the corners of north Mogadishu. Most of our ambulances broke down and the blind shelling was terrible.”

AMISOM spokesman, Lieutenant Colonel Paddy Ankunda, told Reuters that two Ugandan soldiers were also wounded in the fight.

Al Qaeda-affiliated al Shabaab rebels, who want to impose a harsh interpretation of sharia law on the Horn of Africa nation, have waged a five-year campaign to drive Somalia’s weak government from power.

The shaky Western-backed government is supported by about 9,000 Ugandan and Burundian AU troops and now controls much of the coastal city of Mogadishu.

Last week, the U.N. Security Council voted to expand AMISOM to nearly 18,000 soldiers.

Al Shabaab is battling Kenyan and Ethiopian troops to hold on to territory in southern Somalia and against AU troops around the capital. Ethiopian and Somali troops seized the strategic city of Baidoa from al Shabaab last week.