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Islamist Forces Continue Making Gains in Somalia

Islamist forces in Somalia continue to expand the territory under their control, taking a key port in central Somalia. The Islamists have also claimed that as many as 100 troops from the interim government have defected to their side.

Islamic militias reportedly met no resistance as they moved to secure the port town of Hobyo, 500 kilometers north of Somalia's capital, Mogadishu. The Islamists took control of the ports of Harardhere and Eldher during the weekend.

Since gaining control of the capital, Mogadishu, in early June, the Islamists now control large parts of the South, central and coastal regions of the Horn of Africa country.

Najum Mushtaq, a Kenyan-based analyst on Somalia, says the Islamists are fighting wisely. They have seized the most strategic areas of the country without having to do much fighting.

"They have not shown any military imprudence or widened the conflict they have resisted that temptation," said Mushtaq.

But Mushtaq says the Islamists are experiencing resistance in the autonomous Puntland region. He says this is evidence that, so far, the Islamists have been unable to exert influence outside of areas controlled by the Hawiye clan. The leadership of the Islamists is almost all Hawiye.

Mushtaq says the Islamists have a long way to go before realizing their goal of transcending clan barriers and creating a unified Somali national identity. He says their growth can be mostly attributed to clan loyalties.

"It is not purely a military assault," he said. "It is basically a very well rehearsed method that they establish a court to dispense justice, bring order. So far the areas in which, their clan people live have been very receptive to their ideas. Even these new coastal towns they are Hawiye."

International analysts say that the rapid expansion of the area under the Islamists control is further eroding the authority of the secular interim government. The interim government, which is based in the town of Baidoa, about 250 kilometers west of Mogadishu, is backed by regional power Ethiopia, which has vowed to protect the government with force from Islamic aggression.

The interim government and the government of Ethiopia continue to deny that Ethiopian troops are in Somalia, despite numerous eyewitness accounts that Ethiopian forces are deployed in and around Baidoa.

The Arab League had been hoping to host talks in Sudan between the interim government and Islamic leaders, but it announced Tuesday that they would be delayed Islamic leaders says they will not attend the talks until Ethiopian troops leave the country.