Heavily armed al-Shabab fighters in pickup trucks moved into Somalia's Mahaday district in the Middle Shabelle region early Saturday, killing two government soldiers before voluntarily withdrawing, residents and officials said.
The militants attacked about 4 a.m. local time, seizing a police station and administrative offices, residents said. The Mahaday district commissioner, Ahmed Husein, said officials had received word that militants were headed to the town, so they made a quick decision.
"We got intelligence tips from the local people about their attack, and we made a strategic withdrawal for the safety of the innocent civilians," Husein said. "They briefly held the town and immediately withdrew once they realized that we would counterattack as the day wore on."
Fearing reprisals, sources in the town who asked not to be named told VOA the two government soldiers and three militants were killed in a brief clashes at the town's entry checkpoint.
Mahaday is a small agricultural town 27 kilometers from Jowhar, the capital of the Middle Shabelle region and the seat of HirShabelle, a newly established federal member state.
The attack came as the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and the U.N. Support Office in Somalia (UNSOS) jointly embarked on an operation to open up key supply routes in the region.
The organizations intend to open roads in the region and help the military access forward operating bases "in the sector that is under the Burundi contingent," an AMISOM statement said. "The rehabilitation and opening up of the roads in the operation will help the local population to move their crops from farms to the markets, while the security agencies will be able to respond to emergencies much faster than is the case now."
AMISOM said that during the operation, which is expected to take at least three months, it plans to rehabilitate more than 150 kilometers of roads in the agricultural-rich region of Somalia.
Elsewhere in the country, government forces backed by Kenyan Defense Forces have launched an offensive against al-Shabab-controlled villages west of Kismayo to aid local people who have been fighting with militants over the imposition of a tax on their livestock.