Weekend article documents the killing and wounding of civilians after African Union peacekeeping forces and insurgents clash in residential districts. While this report claims that 6 civilians were killed and 10 were injured, subsequent posting titled “Four civilians killed in Mogadishu clashes” report slightly different numbers. Final counts on civilian casualties not yet published.
By MOHAMMED IBRAHIM and JEFFREY GETTLEMAN
Published: February 20, 2011
MOGADISHU, Somalia — At least 20 people were killed and dozens wounded in heavy fighting in Somalia’s capital over the weekend, as African Union forces attacked an extensive underground fortification system of trenches and tunnels used by Islamist insurgents.
The fighting was the most intense of its kind in recent months, and African Union officials said their forces had killed several foreign fighters, including men from Yemen, Pakistan and Syria.
“Our forces fought like animals,” an African Union official said Sunday, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “We had no idea about the trenches.”
Two African Union peacekeepers were killed in the battle, which involved tanks, armored bulldozers and heavily armed troop transport carriers.
The peacekeepers “cut off a mile-long trench system used by the foreign-led extremists to move fighters and ammunition in and out of government-held districts,” an African Union statement said. “The discovery and closure of this tunnel is a major step forward in the stabilization effort in the city.”
The African Union’s official mission is to protect Somalia’s weak transitional government, whose control is confined to a few square blocks of Mogadishu, in a country nearly as big as Texas. Radical Islamist insurgents rule large swaths of southern Somalia and clan militias loosely control much of the rest.
But as many Somali troops have deserted their positions and some have crossed over and joined the insurgents, the peacekeepers have at times taken the offensive.
It was not clear how many Somali government forces fought alongside the African Union peacekeepers, though Somali officials were quick to claim credit.
“We have gained new positions from the Shabab,” one of the biggest insurgent groups, “and we will not stop until they are completely driven away,” Abdikarin Yusuf Adan, the deputy army chief of staff, said Saturday night.
The fighting started Saturday morning and there were many civilian casualties. At least 6 people were killed and 10 were wounded when a mortar shell exploded in a crowded residential neighborhood, witnesses said.
Abdinasir Jamal, a resident, said he saw bodies and wounded people “being collected in pools of blood when the mortar bomb hit,” adding, “This is a never-ending crisis.”
Other mortar shells crashed into camps for internally displaced people who have been living in bubble-shaped shelters made out of twigs and plastic sheets after previous fighting destroyed their homes.
A Shabab spokesman, Ali Mohamoud Rage, told local reporters that the Shabab had won the battle. “We have confiscated military equipment and ammunition,” he said. “They have attacked our forces, but they failed in the attack.”