Africa: Somali, AU Forces Step Up Operations Against Al-Shaaab Strongholds

Somali government troops, backed by African Union (AU) forces, have taken control of the al-Shabab militant group of a strategic town in the Lower Shabelle region, freeing dozens of children in the process, residents and official said.

The town of Kuntuwaarey, in the southwest of Somalia, located 208 kilometers from the capital, Mogadishu, has for many years been a strategic stronghold for al-Shabab.

The “Somali National Army, backed by units from the African Union peacekeepers, has taken control of this strategic town from the militants,” said Isaq Ali Subag, the minister of internal security for the region.

Subag said al-Shabab had been using the town as a base to launch attacks on cities and towns in the region that are controlled by the Somali government.

“The militants have used the city as a military base from which to organize attacks they carry out in other parts of the region, and to run courts in which they impose taxes and other unfair sentences to innocent people,” he said.

Children freed

Following the capture of the town, the joint troops carrying out house-to-house searches freed 33 children from the militants, according to Somali military commanders.

“The 33 rescued children were held in an al-Shabab-run center in the town. They told us they were forcibly taken from their parents,” Colonel Isma’il Abdi Malin told government military radio. “The militants were indoctrinating the children to draft them into their ranks.”