Somalia’s armed forces on Monday captured a strategic coastal town that Al-Shabaab jihadists had held for more than a decade, officials said.
Government forces, which have been waging a major offensive against the Al-Qaeda-linked group since the middle of last year, took control of Haradhere without any fighting, according to government and army officials.
Haradhere is a port town 500 kilometers (300 miles) northeast of the capital Mogadishu in central Somalia, and was a key supply route for Al-Shabaab, deputy telecommunications minister Hussein Ahmed told AFP.
Ahmed, who is one of several senior government officials embedded with the forces that advanced on Haradhere, described it as a “historic victory” for the Somali people.
In recent months, the army and local clan militias have retaken swaths of territory in the center of the country in an operation backed by US air strikes and an African Union force.
“I commend the members of the national armed forces and those from the local community who have taken control of another important district from the kharijites (renegades),” Prime Minister Hamzi Abdi Barre said in a statement, using a government term for Al-Shabaab.
He added: “2023 is the year of freedom and the eradication of Al-Shabaab, and our whole country will be liberated from the desperate kharijites.”
Al-Shabaab has been waging a bloody insurgency against the weak internationally-backed central government for 15 years, carrying out attacks both in Somalia and neighboring countries that sent troops to help in the fight against the militants.
Although forced out of Mogadishu and other main urban centers more than a decade ago, Al-Shabaab remains entrenched in parts of rural central and southern Somalia
Somalia’s President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud declared “all-out war” on the jihadists after taking office in May last year.
But they have frequently retaliated against the offensive with bloody attacks in the capital and elsewhere.
On Saturday, eight people were killed in a roadside bombing in a city in central Somalia where government forces and clan militias have been battling the Al-Qaeda-linked insurgents since the middle of last year.
At an anti-Al-Shabaab rally last Thursday, Mohamud urged the crowds to flush out the Islamist militants, likening them to “bedbugs.”