AU troops claim gains over Shabaab

2010-10-07 15:08

Nairobi - African Union peacekeepers are gradually gaining ground on Islamist insurgents in the Somali capital Mogadishu after a fierce offensive has weakened the rebels, an AU official said Thursday.

"Our troops are penetrating deeper in Mogadishu and driving the insurgents out," the AU's Deputy Special Representative for Somalia, Wafula Wamunyinyi, told journalists in the Kenyan capital Nairobi. "Our forces are present across more than 40%  (of the city)."

Insurgent group al-Shabaab and its allies in August launched a major offensive - the latest spike in years of struggle aimed at toppling the weak Western-backed government.

Al-Shabaab claimed the push was a success, while the AU says the rebel losses incurred and disagreements over the use of foreign fighters have driven a wedge between the insurgent leadership and weakened their military capability.

The government and AU have long been penned into small areas of Mogadishu, while the insurgents hold sway across south and central Somalia.

However, Wamunyinyi said the peacekeeping troops from Uganda and Burundi - recently boosted to 7 200 - could seize half of the city by the end of October.

Uganda, stung by a July al-Shabaab suicide bombing in Kampala that killed 76 - is keen to boost the force to the 20 000 the AU says is needed to defeat the rebels. The East African nation says it can raise the entire force if necessary.

Over 21 000 people have died in the al-Qaeda-linked group's insurgency, which began in early 2007.

The chaos-ridden Horn of Africa nation has been without an effective central government since 1991.