NAIROBI, Kenya - Somali government forces backed by African Union troops have launched an offensive to oust al-Shabab in the outskirts of Mogadishu, along the Afgoye corridor. Security officials say the aim of the assault is to bring security and stability to the more than 400,000 internally displaced persons in the Afgoye area, located west of Mogadishu.
For the first time, African Union forces and Somali national army troops have attacked al-Shabab bases outside Mogadishu.
Paddy Ankunda, spokesman for the AU force, known as AMISOM, told VOA his forces launched an offensive from Daynile district and were moving westwards, which will give them an entry point to Afgoye.
“Daynile district is completely in the hands of AMISOM," said Ankunda. "We are now fighting over a small township called Elasha-Biyaha, which is on the way to Afgoye and the latest report that I have got is that our forces were controlling over 85 percent of that township.”
The Afgoye corridor hosts more than 400,000 internally displaced persons along a 30-kilometer stretch of road from Mogadishu.
It is where many people from Mogadishu have settled over the years as the bullet-ridden city faced intense daily fighting between pro-government forces and al-Shabab.
Humanitarian agencies have expressed fears of civilian casualties and called on all parties to the conflict to avoid use of excessive and indiscriminate force against civilians.
However, Ankunda says the AMISOM operation was carefully planned to avoid any civilian casualties and have advised IDPs (internally displaced persons) to stay in the camps.
“We worked very closely with our colleagues from the United Nations humanitarian organizations and we have asked civilians not to stray into areas where the fighting is taking place we have requested that they stay in the IDP camps," said Ankunda. "We are working with UNOCHA [United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] to make sure that they deliver a humanitarian assistance.”
African Union forces effectively drove al-Shabab out of Mogadishu last year, greatly improving the security in the capital.
Afgoye corridor is one of the last remaining strongholds of al-Shabab outside Mogadishu. The 30-kilometer stretch served as training grounds for new recruits, a place for leadership to meet and center for pro-militant propaganda.