Somali, AU troops capture key Shehab stronghold

Somali government troops captured the Shebab stronghold of Bardhere

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Somali government troops backed by African Union forces on Wednesday captured the Shebab stronghold of Bardhere, one of the last key bases of the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamists, officials said.

"We have secured control of the town. The allied forces are now conducting mine clearing operations in the different neighbourhoods," Siyad Ahmed, a Somali military official, told AFP by telephone from the southern town.

"There was no a major resistance, and the violent elements fled when our troops approached. They have emptied the town," Ahmed said.

Witnesses in a nearby villages reported heavy fighting between the Somali government and African Union troops with the Shebab, before the militants pulled out.

They also said residents of Bardhere had also fled.

A Shebab commander, Sheikh Ahmed Abu-Ubeyda, confirmed the militants had lost the town but insisted they had not been defeated and that fighting was continuing.

"The allied invading Christian forces and the Somali apostates entered parts of Bardhere this afternoon... but the Mujahedeen are putting up resistance," he said.

"The Mujahedeen fighters are still in the area and this fight will last longer than the enemy thinks," he added.

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