Tuesday, April 02, 2013
African Union and Somali government forces have opened a key route
after months of fighting, commanders said Tuesday, reaching the former
Islamic stronghold of Baidoa by road for the first time.
from the 17,000-strong AU force have been battling for almost a year to
open up the 240 kilometre (150 mile) stretch of road -- a former
stronghold region of Somalia's Al-Qaeda linked Shebab -- running
northwest from Mogadishu.
Ethiopian troops fighting from the west
captured Baidoa from the extremists last year, and AU troops later
joined them, arriving by air.
But Baidoa had remained cut off from the capital as Shebab fighters still controlled the road to Mogadishu.
Tuesday, the AU force said its soldiers had pushed the final 60
kilometres (40 miles) from Burhakaba, wrested from the Islamists in
"This significant move not only allows for free movement
of the population, but also opens up this key supply route and allows
for the provision of humanitarian aid," the AU force said in a
AU troops made their first significant push outside
Mogadishu in May 2012, when they captured the town of Afgoye from the
The opening of the road comes as Ethiopian troops
reportedly prepare to pull out of several southwest Somali regions it
controls, and will potentially allow AU troops to bolster defences with
heavy weaponry from their main base in Mogadishu.
Despite a string
of losses in recent months, the Shebab remain a potent threat, still
controlling rural areas as well as carrying out guerrilla attacks in
areas apparently under government control.
The extremists retook the southwestern Somali town of Hudur just hours after Ethiopia pulled out there last month.Somalia has been ravaged by conflict since 1991 but a new UN-backed government to