By Abdi Guled
Ethiopian and Somali troops seized a town in Somalia controlled by al-Shabab militants who fled after battles with troops, residents said Thursday.
Hundreds of residents and rebel fighters fled Hudur, 420 kilometers (260 miles) southwest of Mogadishu, as troops moved into town. A resident said the fighting was over but sporadic gunfire could be heard.
"The Ethiopian troops have arrived in the town now, and al-Shabab left last night," Mohamed Mudey, a resident in Hudur, said by phone.
Hudur is the administrative headquarters of Bakool region. The town has served as a training base for the militant group al-Shabab.
The fall of Hudur is a big blow to the al-Qaida-linked group's control of southern Somalia.
Al-Shabab confirmed the withdrawal, saying its forces made a tactical retreat.
"Our mujahedeen forces have made a tactical retreat from Hudur as part of the plan to disable the enemy in guerrilla warfare," the group said in a statement on their website Thursday.
Al-Shabab has increased its use of suicide and roadside bomb attacks since it was forced out of Mogadishu last year by African Union troops. Troops from Ethiopia are attacking al-Shabab from the west, while Kenyan forces are attacking from the south. Al-Shabab still controls wide tracts of southern and central Somalia, but faces mounting pressure.
Somalia has been mired in conflict since 1991, when long-term dictator Siad Barre was overthrown by warlords who then turned on each other.
Source: Associated Press