Clashes in central Somalia between Somali army troops and al-Shabab militants have left at least 12 people dead, witnesses say.
The clashes Thursday started after armed al-Shabab members tried to impose taxes on residents of villages around the town of Mahas, in the Hiran region.
Resident Dahir Muse Osoble told VOA Somali that government soldiers backing cattle herders engaged in more than six hours of battle with the militants.
"The fighting started at around 11 a.m. local time when heavily armed militants simultaneously entered into the villages of Kaadiley, Lebi Butale, Bulucle and Muse Geel, ordering pastoralists to hand over some of their livestock as a zakat demand, or tax. Then we took up arms to defend ourselves and our livestock from the militants' flagrant aggression, with the backing Somali National Army," Osoble said.
Somali government officials in Mahas, contacted by VOA, confirmed the army had moved in to back up the cattle herders.
"The pastoralists and habitants in these villages, who are already struggling economically after losing hundreds of livestock in the recent drought, dismissed the demand for taxes, leading to the fighting. And it is our job to defend our citizens from terrorists," said one official.
Multiple residents said at least 12 combatants, including five militants and one civilian, were killed in the fighting.
Clashes involving pastoralists resisting al-Shabab taxes began in Somalia's Hiran and Middle Shabelle regions in 2013.