Friday, May 25, 2012
African Union (AU) forces in Somalia say they have captured the strategic town near the capital, Mogadishu, after Islamist militants pulled out.
Afgoye was a major stronghold of the al-Shabab group, giving their fighters easy access to the capital.
"They might never recover from this," the spokesman for the AU in Somalia, Lt-Col Paddy Ankunda told the BBC.
But a resident told the BBC no troops had entered Afgoye itself and AU tanks were attempting to encircle the town.
Analysts say the town's loss would be a big blow for the al-Qaeda group.
Afgoye, 30km (18 miles) north-west of Mogadishu, lies on a strategic crossroads for routes to the north, west and south of Somalia.
Lt-Col Ankunda said Afgoye was the militants' second most important stronghold after the city of Kismayo in the south.
The town has allowed al-Shabab fighters to mount frequent attacks in the capital - despite being expelled last August from its bases there by the African Union force in the city.
Despite facing pressure on a number of military fronts, al-Shabab still controls much of the country.
The advance by Somali government troops, backed by African Union forces in tanks, began early on Tuesday.
The forces avoided using the main road linking Mogadishu to Afgoye as this stretch of land - known as the Afgoye corridor - is home to up to 400,000 people who have fled years of fighting and are now living in makeshift camps.
Army commanders have told the BBC they approached Afgoye over scrub land and Lt-Col Ankunda said no civilians were killed in the operation.
Despite these precautions, people living in the Afgoye corridor have been fleeing in their thousands either towards Mogadishu or Afgoye town.
The militants left Afgoye on Thursday when the AU and army forces were within a few kilometres of the town.
An Afgoye town resident told the BBC that office equipment and food were then looted from buildings previously occupied by al-Shabab on Thursday evening.
The Horn of Africa nation has been without an effective central government since 1991 and has been racked by fighting ever since - a situation that has allowed piracy and lawlessness to flourish.
On Wednesday evening, leaders of disparate Somali factions agreed to a timetable that will elect a new president by 20 August, ending the transition period of the UN-backed interim government.