MOHAMED OLAD HASSAN, AP, March 7, 2008
MOGADISHU, Somalia - Islamist insurgents killed five government soldiers while briefly taking a strategic town in central Somalia, police and residents said, the second such seizure within 24 hours
The attack late Thursday took place in Belet Weyne, near a critical road junction that links Somalia to the border with Ethiopia. Hundreds of troops are stationed at the junction, which is also Ethiopia's main supply route.
"They launched a surprise attack on the town from different directions, facing pockets of resistance from government forces and immediately took the control of the police station, the prison and a hotel government regional officials were using," said a police officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.
The town's police chief, Col. Abdi Aden, confirmed that five government soldiers had been killed.
Local resident Duniyo Ali said the fighters had retained control of the town for about three hours before voluntarily withdrawing. The area was now calm, she said.
Also Thursday, residents said Islamists had seized Hudur, a strategic southwestern Somali town that lies along the road leading from Ethiopia into Somalia, without firing a shot.
Islamist fighters have vowed to wage an Iraq-style war on the shaky Western-backed transitional government after Somali troops supported by their Ethiopian allies chased the Islamists from power in December 2006.
The Islamists had seized control of much of the south and the country's capital, Mogadishu, which they had held for six months.
Since the Islamists launched their insurgency, thousands of Somalis have been killed. Somali government troops and officials come under daily attack and the U.N.-backed administration is viewed by many Somalis as corrupt and ineffective. The impoverished country is riven between warring clans and awash with weapons.
The U.S. has linked the militiamen to al-Qaida. On Monday, the U.S. launched a missile strike in a Somali town along the Kenyan border, targeting a suspect in the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa.