African Union and local troops have seized one of the last major towns held by the al-Shabab Islamic extremist rebels in the southwest of the country, a Somali officer said Wednesday.
The militants withdrew from the town as the troops moved into Bardhere, an agricultural center, said Maj. Abdullahi Mohamed.
David Odongo, the spokesman of the Kenyan army, which is part of the African Union force, confirmed that coalition forces had seized the bridge into town that morning killing 24 militants with the loss of two Somali soldiers.
Bardhere residents reported seeing the soldiers after the militants' withdrawal. Some of the residents had fled the town in the past few days in anticipation of fighting.
African Union troops, made up of forces from Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya, Burundi and Djibouti, are backing Somalia's government against al-Shabab, which is allied to al-Qaida.
The coalition forces have managed to push al-Shabab out of most of their strongholds in Somalia, including the capital, but the militants remain a deadly force attacking government and civilian targets.
Somalia has been wracked by conflict since the 1991 ouster of dictator Siad Barre by warlords who then turned on each other.