Heavy fighting was reported Wednesday after al-Shabab militants attacked two Somali towns along the border with Ethiopia.
Regional officials who confirmed the attack with VOA Somali said militants clashed with Liyu police, members of Ethiopia’s controversial paramilitary forces that have long been present in Somalia’s southwestern Bakool region towns of Yeed and Aato.
Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF) operating in Somalia as part of a bilateral security deal between Ethiopia and Somalia rely on Liyu police for border protection and supply route safety and logistics.
A security official who requested anonymity because he is not allowed to speak with media told VOA’s Somali Service that al-Shabab first attacked a Liyu police camp in Aato town; a local Bakool region official confirmed the al-Shabab then carried out a second attack on Yeed, where militants again entered a Liyu police encampment.
Militants later attacked Washaaqo village with mortars, possibly to disrupt Liyu police reinforcements from arriving on the scene. Yeed and Aato are within 80 kilometers of each other, while Washaaqo is slightly further inside Somalia.
Casualties are not yet known. Telephone networks in the area had been down most of Wednesday.
Al-Shabab spokesperson Abdulaziz Abu Mus’ab claimed the group’s fighters captured both Yeed and Aato.
All three Somali towns have hosted a large presence of Liyu police that hail from Ethiopia’s eastern Somali Region for many years.
ENDF has nearly 4,000 soldiers serving as part of the African Union Transition Mission in Somalia. Ethiopia is also thought to have several thousand additional special police that operate in Somalia based on an agreement with the Somali government.
This latest al-Shabab attack comes as Somali Prime Minister Hamza Abdi Barre on Wednesday said the government is determined to launch a “forceful and comprehensive” fight to counter al-Shabab and Islamic State militants through “military and non-military means” in order to reopen the main supply routes for humanitarian efforts, commercial activities and free movement of people.
Barre did not give a timeline of the operations against al-Shabab. Somalia President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, who assumed office in May, recently announced a new strategy to fight al-Shabab comprising military, ideological and economic components.
Ahmed Umar Abu Ubaidah, al-Shabab’s leader, vowed in a new audio recording to fight the new government, asserting the group will “never allow a government that is not founded upon Islam and an administration that doesn’t fully implement Sharia [law].”