Heavy fighting between Somali government forces and the al-Qaida-linked militant group al-Shabab killed 26 people on Monday, witnesses and officials said.
Nearly a week ago al-Shabab militants lost control of Garbaharey during a battle against government troops and allied fighters from Ahlu-sunna Waljamea, a pro-government moderate Islamist group. Monday’s fighting took place as al-Shabab militants tried to recapture Garbaharey, a town in the southwestern Somali region of Gedo.
Government officials say Somali forces repelled Monday's rebel attack and claimed victory.
The militants recently lost most of the towns in the region to the government soldiers but they still control large sections of Southern and Central Somalia.
The clashes in this region are part of a government organized offensive aimed at asserting its control beyond the few areas it controls in Mogadishu with the backing of the African Union peacekeepers.
Witnesses who spoke to VOA Somali Service on condition of anonymity said this morning they have collected the bodies of 26 people killed in the fighting on Monday.
One religious elder in the town said local elders buried the dead in two mass graves this afternoon, adding that all of the dead were combatants from both sides.
A Somali lawmaker who is among those commanding the government soldiers, claimed they killed dozens of the militants and that only five of his men were injured in speaking to VOA Somali Service.
“We were in a defensive position in fortified trenches, we ducked outside the town when the militants attacked us from all directions, we fought fiercely and fended them off, the fact that we were in defense inflicted them heavy losses,” said lawmaker Nur Matan Abdi.
Latest reports from the town indicate that calm has returned and al-Shabab militants have returned to nearby Burdhube, a town from which they launched the attack.