Southern Somalia fighting kills eight
The Shebab controlled most of southern and central Somalia till earlier this year
Fighting between pro-government forces and militants from the Al Qaeda-inspired Shebab insurgent group left at least eight people dead in southwestern Somalia, officials and witnesses said on Friday.
Fighting erupted Thursday when a convoy of Somali military vehicles carrying supplies was ambushed on a road near the village of Bohol-Bashiir, some 25 kilometres (16 miles) southeast of the town of Luuq, the government said.
"Our forces came under attack late in the afternoon as they were heading towards the village of Yurkut," further south, said Hussein Omar, a Somali government official.
"We crushed the Al Qaeda affiliates and killed several of their fighters on the spot. The convoy was able to carry on," he said.
Omar admitted to two dead and three wounded in pro-government ranks.
Residents from the nearby village said at least eight dead were reported following the ambush and the subsequent gunfight.
"The information we are getting is that eight combatants died in the ambush attack. The exchange of fire lasted about two hours but the convoy eventually continued on its way," said Moalim Tahlil Ahmed, a local elder.
Several other local residents gave the same death toll.
Shebab commanders in the Gedo region where the attack took place confirmed launching the operation and claimed inflicting heavy casualties on pro-government forces but refused to elaborate.
Also on Thursday, pro-government forces seized the town of Garbaharey, further west, after the Shebab insurgents who had controlled it since 2009 pulled out without a fight.
Somali government forces, allied with local militias and the Sufi group Ahlu Sunna wal Jamaa are fighting together in a bid to reconquer the country.
Until the offensive kicked off earlier this year -- with African Union forces spearheading the effort in Mogadishu and support from Kenya and Ethiopia to the south -- the Shebab controlled most of southern and central Somalia.
Pro-government forces captured key towns in the southernmost region of Jubba while the next objective of the forces who entered Garbaharey Thursday is believed to be the town of Bardera.
The pincer movement from the regions of Gedo and Jubba leaves the southern port city of Kismayo, the Shebab's main economic and logistical lifeline, looking increasingly isolated.