Hundreds of Ethiopian troops poured into a western Somalia border town on Saturday,opening a new front against the militant group al-Shabab,which now faces hostile militaries on three sides.
Resident Mohammed Abdi said hundreds of residents fled Beledweyne Saturday after hundreds of Ethiopian and Somali troops moved in. Hashi Nor of the Somali military confirmed the troops had moved in. I saw Ethiopian troops standing at the doors of neighboring homes. Somali soldiers are also searching the homes, Abdi said. Al-Shabab retreated back to Bulo Burte and also many of the residents fled,and those who remained are in their homes.
The military movement appears to be a third front against al-Shabab,Somalias strongest militant group. Kenyan troops moved into Somalia in mid-October in a push against the militants in the countrys south. African Union troops from Uganda,Burundi and most recently from Djibouti have mostly pushed al-Shabab fighters out of the capital,Mogadishu.
We are in full control of Beledweyne now and our troops will move forward in the coming hours, Nor,the Somali military officer,said by phone from Beledweyne.
However,al-Shabab on its official Twitter feed said a battle that began at 6 am was still raging as of midday.
Al-Shabab said a majority of Beledweyne residents joined al-Shabab to thwart the offensive. It claimed that dozens of Ethiopian troops had been killed,but that was impossible to verify and was likely an exaggerated claim. It later said on Twitter that al-Shabab was executing a planned withdrawal and would surround the city.
Somali Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali said Somalias forces had taken over strategic places from al-Shabab in Hiran on Saturday. He did not make direct mention of involvement by Ethiopian troops.