Somali officials say their forces have retaken two towns that al-Shabab militants briefly captured late Friday.
The governor of the Lower Shabelle region, Abdulkadir Mohamed Nur, tells VOA’s Somali service that government troops launched a counterattack and retook Awdhegle and Mubarak, about 75 kilometers west of Mogadishu.
The African Union force in Somalia, AMISOM, confirmed Somali government troops had retaken the towns.
The governor said the militants have been pushed three kilometers away from the towns and may make another attempt to seize control of them. He said soldiers have received reinforcement and are ready to defend the towns.
At least four people were killed in the fighting, including two soldiers, officials said. Nur said government forces have killed more than 20 militants in the counterattacks, but there has been no independent confirmation of the claim.
Local residents said Friday they could still hear occasional gunshots. Residents also told VOA Somali that the militants have abducted the leader of the local traditional elders, Hassan Nur Aliyow. His location is not clear.
The towns were guarded by African Union troops until two months ago. As AU troops vacated the area, security responsibilities were handed over to Somali soldiers.
Al-Shabab once controlled most of central and southern Somalia but has lost nearly all of its territory over the last five years to AU and Somali government forces.
An AU statement Friday said “the militants are desperately looking for operational bases after being pushed out of all their strongholds.”
Last week, John Kerry became the first sitting U.S. Secretary of State to visit Somalia. He said the United States would be willing to help build Somalia’s national army and help integrate regional forces into it.