Somalia's military says an offensive in the central Hiran region has captured 20 villages that were occupied by the Islamist militant group al-Shabab.
A Somali National Army commander, Captain Mohamed Ibrahim Daud, told VOA by phone Monday that army troops backed by armed locals have killed more than 100 al-Shabab fighters and also "liberated" 20 villages from the al-Qaida-affiliated group.
He said the retaken villages include several key locations in Hiran region, including the small town of Fidow near Somalia's border with Ethiopia.
Daud said troops captured another 20 militants alive.
He acknowledged that the army received air support during the operations, without naming a country.
In a statement issued Sunday night, Somali Information Ministry said the operations were the first step in implementing the government's vision of fighting terrorism and getting rid of al-Shabab "all over the country."
"The Somali government is committed to remove al-Shabab as a threat to the Somali people," the statement said.
Abdulkarim Abdulle, a Mogadishu-based independent security analyst, told VOA via WhatsApp that local militias are determined to work with the security forces to eliminate al-Shabab in the regions.
He said the Macwisley — referring to local militia — is something that Somali government encouraged in the population, and they decided to liberate themselves from al-Shabab. Without them, Abdulle said, the operations could not succeed.
Al-Shabab did not comment on the government's claims, but said it carried out a series of bomb attacks in the Hiran region targeting Somali security forces.
Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud declared a "total war" against al-Shabab in August 2022, after the group staged a deadly hotel siege in the capital Mogadishu that killed 21 people and wounded more than 100 others.