Al-Shabab militants have retaken a strategic town linking Somalia’s capital to the western regions of the country.
Residents in Leego, 120 kilometers from Mogadishu, said they saw militants enter and seize the town early Friday morning after Ugandan troops stationed there completed their withdrawal.
Residents reported that the troops, who are part of the African Union mission AMISOM, had been loading military equipment and personal belongings onto military trucks since Thursday. The convoy departed the town early Friday, allowing al-Shabab militants to reoccupy the town.
The governor of Lower Shabelle region, Ibrahim Adam Najah, confirmed the fall of Leego to VOA Somali.
“I can confirm to you that the anti-peace element, the enemy of Somalia, has taken over the town without a fight, and that AMISOM troops have withdrawn,” he said.
Najah said militants using five battle wagons entered the town from different directions.
Leego is just 30 kilometers west of Ballidogle airport, where U.S. advisers and instructors train several hundred elite Somali commandos.
Najah said he was disappointed that AU troops left the town without informing his administration.
“I have contacted AMISOM on why they had to suddenly withdraw from an area so strategic. They said they will comment later on about the reason and what caused the move,” Najah said.
AMISOM has yet to comment on the Leego withdrawal. It’s the latest pullback from the so-called forward operating bases which have been come under heavy al-Shabab attacks.
Leego in particular was the scene of a deadly assault by the militants on June 26, 2015, when 54 Burundian soldiers were killed.
The Ugandan troops have been deployed there ever since to secure a key western route linking Mogadishu to the Bay and Bakool regions.
Al-Shabab’s capture of Leego effectively cuts off the Mogadishu from these regions making air travel the only means to travel there.
Najah said he wants either government troops or other AMISOM troops to return to the town and retake it from Al-Shabab.
The withdrawal comes just five days after Al-Shabab carried out one of the deadliest ambushes on Ugandan troops. The attack on a supply convoy in Golweyn village on July 30 killed as many as 23 Ugandan soldiers according to Somali government officials. Uganda said it lost only 12 soldiers.
Military sources told VOA Somali that the troops who were pulled from Leego today will be deployed at Golweyn village to secure the southern route linking Mogadishu to the port town of Barawe.
Al-Shabab, which is allied with al-Qaida, has been fighting since 2006 to overthrow the Somali government and turn the country into a strict Islamic state.