The Somali government Thursday said its soldiers — backed by international partners and local clan militias — have killed upwards of 350 al-Shabab militants and wounded dozens more in different operations in the country’s south and central regions.
VOA Somali was not able to verify the reported death tolls, and there was no immediate comment from the al-Shabab group through its spokesman or websites.
According to Somali officials, the Somali National Army carried out operations in Hiiraan in Hirshabelle State, Mudug in Galmudug State and lower Jubba region in Jubaland State.
At a news conference Thursday in Mogadishu, Somalia’s Deputy Information Minister Abdirahman Yusuf Adala said in one area of Hirshabelle, more than 200 al-Shabab militants were killed.
“The Somali National Army with the help of the local clan forces and international partners killed over 200 al-Shabab terrorists in the Iji area alone, about 23 kilometers from the Mahaday district in the Middle Shabelle region on Thursday," Adala said. "Also, the joint forces recovered weapons and supplies of medicine and foodstuff from the militants.”
He added that four militant commanders were killed and a number of others with injuries were taken into custody.
Multiple battle sites
In the Mudug of central Galmudug state, in the town of Bacadweyne, more than 70 militants were killed in three days of fighting between al-Shabab and government soldiers backed by armed residents, according to Adala.
In another operation in Af’ad village between Jalalaqsi and Bulobarde in the neighboring Hiran region on Wednesday, at least 70 militants were killed.
“A large number of armed militants crossed the Shabelle River and dug trenches in the Af’ad area," the deputy security chief of Jalalaqsi town told VOA. "The joint forces responding to the militants’ movement launched military operations in which 72 militants were killed, and weapons were seized.”
Meanwhile, in southern Somalia, al-Shabab militants launched an attack on a government military base in Sanguni village in the Jubaland state, about 450 kilometers south of Mogadishu.
“The militants launched a heavy attack, but they were repulsed with force because our soldiers had earlier received tips from local people about the [pending] attack. About 12 militants were killed,” Adala said.
He added that five members of the SNA were killed, and seven others sustained injuries during the operations.
Al-Shabab's military operations spokesman Abdulaziz Abu Muscab spoke to the armed group's mobile radio station, Al-furqan, and made a counter claim.
"Our Mujahidin fighters carried out attacks on apostate soldiers and the backing militias in Lower Juba, Lower Shabelle, middle Shabelle and Hiran regions for the past 24 hours, killing more than 60 of the enemy [government soldiers] and over 40 were injured" Muscab said.
VOA could not independently verify the claims of either side.
Sanguni is the Somali military base where, during an attack on June 8, 2018, 26-year-old Staff Sergeant Alexander Conrad of the U.S. Army died from wounds he received during a battle with militants.
Local residents in central Somali regions of Middle Shabelle and Hiran said drones supporting government soldiers bombed the militants as they fought with government soldiers on the ground.
The Somali government has often expressed gratitude toward international partners without mentioning a particular country.
But the United States has been supporting the Somali army in its fight against al-Shabab by providing enhanced training, equipment, and the ability to call for U.S. air support.
The latest U.S. airstrike to assist the Somali army took place Wednesday in a remote area near Bacadweyne, about 460 kilometers northwest of Mogadishu.
The U.S. military’s Africa Command (AFRICOM) says the strike, “in support of Somali National Army engagements against al-Shabab,” killed five militant fighters.
AFRICOM says a similar airstrike killed 12 militants on February 10. According to AFRICOM assessments, no civilians were injured or killed in either operation.
Nation facing insecurity, threats
Somalia has been grappling with chronic insecurity for years, with al-Shabab Islamists being one of the main threats to the country’s stability.
The militants have increased their attacks since President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud took office last May and vowed an "all-out war" against al-Shabab.
The group has been fighting in the Horn of Africa nation, targeting Somali government officials and African Union peacekeepers since 2007.
In October, twin car bombings by al-Shabab in the capital took the lives of more than 100 people and wounded more than 300 others.