(AN)Alshabab militants have begun pulling out of at least two key towns in central Somalia after neighbouring Ethiopia sent hundreds of troops across the border, residents said on Monday.
Residents in Baladweyne and Eelbuur towns, both close to the Ethiopian frontier, said Alshabab fighters had abandoned checkpoints where they used to collect taxes and left their battle stations.
“I saw a convoy of Alshabab troops vacating the front lines,” said a resident of Eelbuur, who identified himself only as Ahmed. “I don’t know where (the fighters) are headed, but they aren’t in the town any longer.”
Ethiopian troop deployment in Somalia would squeeze Alshabab’s forces, already struggling from the loss of once lucrative income bases after abandoning fixed positions in Mogadishu in August.
Alshabab, which is fighting to overthrow the Somalia Transitional Government, welcomed on Sunday Ethiopia’s apparent incursion as a sign that the Kenyan military campaign was failing to dismantle the rebel network.
In Baidoa, about 250 km northwest of the capital Mogadishu, Alshabab on Monday issued a rallying cry for holy war.
“Alshabab took to the streets with loud speakers and urged us to prepare for Jihad,” said Ali, a Baidoa resident. “They have been warning us not to spy for the Ethiopians or for the government.”
Ethiopia’s troops were last in Somalia in 2006 during a widely unpopular attempt to unseat the Islamic Courts Union (ICU). The ICU was seen as a threat to the current Transitional Federal Government.