June 26, 2012
Somali Forces Gain Against Al-Shabab
Somali government and African Union forces have driven al-Shabab militants from the strategic town of Balad, north of the capital, Mogadishu.
Balad is on a key road in the Middle Shabelle region, about 30 kilometers from the capital.
The capture means the roadway between Balad and Mogadishu is under government control for the first time in at least three years.
Balad resident Bahjo Abdullahi said he awoke Tuesday to the sounds of African Union tanks rolling into town. He heard no fighting. "There was no heavy fighting in the town because al-Shabab has been fleeing since last night towards Jowhar. The town is quiet. The soldiers are making searches and situation is calm," the resident said.
Balad is about 60 kilometers from the regional capital of Jowhar, which remains in the hands of the al-Qaida-allied group.
Pro-government forces are moving to capture the last three major towns still under al-Shabab control. They include Jowhar, the port city of Kismayo and Merca, capital of the Lower Shabelle region.
Al-Shabab once controlled most of southern and central Somalia, but has steadily lost ground in an offensive by AU, Somali, Kenyan and Ethiopian forces.
Al-Shabab is fighting to overthrow Somalia's transitional government and impose a strict form of Islamic law.