Government forces and allied militias in Somalia have recaptured a strategic town that the al-Shabab armed group had controlled for six years.
Pro-government forces entered the town of Adan Yabal in Hirshabelle, about 220km (140 miles) northeast of the capital Mogadishu, after the al-Qaeda-affiliated fighters withdrew without resisting, President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud said in a televised address.
The army and local clan militias known as “Macawisley” have retaken swaths of territory in the central states of Galmudug and Hirshabelle in recent months in an operation backed by United States air attacks and helicopter support from an African Union (AU) force, ATMIS.
In a chat with newsmen, Adan Yabal Mayor Mahamud Hasan Mahamud said the army and militias took control of the town and the surrounding district of the same name without encountering resistance on Monday.
“Adan Yabal was very important for al-Shabab because it is the heart that connects the central regions and the south of Somalia. It was also their main base from which they manage the central regions,” Mahamud said.
ATMIS said al-Shabab had used Adan Yabal as a training base. The force welcomed its return to Somali government control.
The fighters, who have been waging a bloody war against Somalia’s internationally recognised federal government for 15 years, also used the town as a logistics hub.
Mohammed El-Amine Souef, head of ATMIS, said the broader campaign was delivering “destructive and decisive” blows against the group.
President Mohamud, who declared an “all-out war” against al-Shabab after his election in May, said the effort to rid Hirshabelle and Galmudug of the group was in its “final stages” with only “pockets” of resistance remaining.
AMISOM, a previous incarnation of the AU force in Somalia, had seized Adan Yabal from the fighters in 2016 before ceding control a few months later after Ethiopian troops withdrew.
Analysts say that al-Shabab often abandons areas before army offensives but the government is usually unable to hold recaptured territory, which allows the fighters to return.
Forced out of the country’s main urban centres about 10 years ago, al-Shabab remains entrenched in vast swaths of rural central and southern Somalia and continues to carry out deadly attacks in Mogadishu.
On October 29, 116 people were killed in the capital in two car bomb explosions at the education ministry, and eight civilians died in a 21-hour hotel siege on November 27.