Somalia’s militant Islamist group al Shabaab retook a small town in the middle of the country after it was abandoned by government troops, residents said.
Fighting broke out in Muqokori, north of Mogadishu, on Friday almost a month after government troops ousted insurgents.
“Al Shabaab attacked from various sides. After an hour of fighting, government forces left and al Shabaab seized control,” Hussein Nur, a local elder, told Reuters.
The militant group claimed 47 government soldiers died in the fighting.
“We have their dead bodies,” said Abdiasis Abu Musab, al Shabaab’s military operations spokesman, adding they captured four vehicles and dozens of weapons.
The military said the insurgents were not in full control and soldiers were withdrawn for tactical reasons.
“There were only a few soldiers there and they left the town for tactical reasons,” Major Abdullahi Aden told Reuters, adding their positions were being reinforced.
Aden did not give details of casualties.
Al Shabaab militants are fighting to topple Somalia’s Western-backed central government and to rule the Horn of Africa country according to a strict interpretation of Islamic sharia law.
The group was ejected from Mogadishu in 2011 and has since been driven from most of its other strongholds across the country.
It remains a formidable threat, with fighters frequently carrying out bombings against civilian and military targets in Mogadishu and other towns.
Separately the group attacked a military base in the semi-autonomous region of Puntland the same day, killing several soldiers.