Somalia: Puntland troops advance in battle for towns seized by militants

Military forces from the Puntland semiautonomous state in northern Somalia regained control of a town in the east of the region after fierce clashes with Al Shabab fighters, drawing closer to other nearby rebel-held areas, officials said on Wednesday.

The recapture of Garmal, a town near the former piracy hub of Eyl is one of the most significant counter attacks by troops since rebel fighters started trying to expand their presence in the region in recent weeks.

The development comes two days after a group of Al Shabab fighters seized the small port town of Garacad, in Mudug region, opening a second military front against the regional administration which is already locked in a deadly war with militants in the largely mountainous town of Galgala and nearby villages.

The surprise seaborne attack had left Puntland authorities scramble to mobilize its forces to recapture areas lost to the militants.

Mohamud Hassan, Puntland’s information minister claimed that the regional forces killed at least 20 Al Shabab fighters in the ongoing fighting which officials expected to build momentum in pushing back militants from the region.

He called for the invading Al Shabab fighters to surrender, assuring them of proper treatments.

However, pro- Al Shabab media outlets claimed that militants continued to hold out troops in several villages they overrun this week, saying that they had inflicted ‘significant’ causalities on the advancing forces.

Meanwhile, Puntland government convened an emergency meeting of security officials and political leaders on Wednesday to lay plans to retake ground seized by the extremist group.

Elsewhere, Puntland officials said that troops were also battling to recapture villages around Garacad town to secure supply and reinforcement routes, before launching a final push to retake the town overrun by Al Shabab after launching a sea borne attack on Tuesday night.

Recapturing the town would serve as a major psychological boost for Puntland forces and would disrupt further advance by Al Shabab from Nugal region to the east side, in an attempt to expand its military presence, a strategy which military experts said aims to increase pressure on the regional forces.

The northern Somalia region had remained stable during over decades old conflict in Somalia which largely engulfed large parts in the south and central Somalia.