(AFP) MOGADISHU — Pro-government forces in Somalia on Saturday recaptured the town of Bulo Hawo on the border with Kenya and Ethiopia from Al Qaeda-linked Shebab Islamists, sources said.

A local official said that the Shebab insurgents, whose aim is to overthrow the Somali government, had left the town Saturday following two weeks of intense fighting.

“We are in full control” of Bulo Hawo, declared Mohamed Abdi Khalif.

A Shebab militant on condition of anonymity said that the group had retreated due to a change in tactics.

“We will regain Bulo Hawo and Shabab troops who retreated for military reasons are not far away,” he said.

The pro-regime forces include militia led by a local warlord and armed members of Sufi group Ahlu Sunna Wal Jama that are backed by elements of Ethiopia’s army, security sources have told AFP.

The forces had seized Bulo Hawo from the militants in October 2010 before abandoning it several weeks later amid discord with the fragile transitional government.

Clashes in the town erupted on February 19, the same time as pro-government forces and their African Union backers (AMISOM) launched an offensive in the capital Mogadishu. A third offensive opened in central Beledweyne.

The simultaneous campaigns apparently are aimed at stretching Shebab forces thin in order to prevent them from concentrating their fighting in Mogadishu.

The Shebab islamists control large swathes of the country’s south and centre. They have sworn to topple the transitional government which is backed by the international community.

 

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