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MOGADISHU, May 31 (Reuters) - The al Shabaab militant group in Somalia said on Thursday it had left its stronghold of Afmadow and the strategic town was now in the hands of Somali and Kenyan solders.
Kenyan and Somali forces advanced a day earlier to the edge of Afmadow, a town that was seen as an obstacle to a concerted advance on al Shabaab's main bastion, the southern port city of Kismayu.
"The Kenyan and Somali troops have now entered Afmadow. No fighting took place inside the town," Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab, spokesman for al Shabaab's military operation, told Reuters.
"First we fought fiercely outside the town and then our fighters left the town as part of our tactics. However, we shall not stop fighting," he said.
The spokesman for Somali government forces in the Juba region of the Horn of Africa country painted a similar picture of how the town fell, seven months after Kenya sent troops into the country to battle al Shabaab.
"There were no casualties. Al Shabaab fled and no fighting took place. We are going to consolidate security for now," Mohamud Farah told Reuters.
The Kenyan incursion is part of a three-pronged offensive against al Shabaab, an Islamist group that is also battling Ethiopian troops in central Somalia and an African Union force near the capital, Mogadishu.
Seizing Afmadow is a crucial step in the Kenyan drive towards the southern port city of Kismayu, the hub of al Shabaab operations, about 120 km (75 miles) away. (Reporting by Abdi Sheikh and Feisal Omar; Writing by David Clarke; Editing by Richard Lough)