MOGADISHU (Reuters) - Somali soldiers and allied militia killed at least 27 al Shabaab militants in fighting along Somalia’s border with Kenya, local residents and a militia commander said on Friday.
Clashes erupted on Thursday in the government-held Somali border town of Balad Hawa as residents headed to evening prayers. Mortar fire reverberated through the dusty streets until after midnight when al Shabaab fighters retreated.
A Kenyan security officer at the border said scores of Kenyan troops were deployed along the frontier as a precaution.
Resident Ahmed Osman said he counted 32 corpses in Balad Hawa on Friday morning. Somali forces put the known toll at 27 and said a unidentified number of their own troops were killed.
Others said the fighting had triggered an exodus from the town, with hundreds fleeing towards Kenya and nearby Ethiopia.
“Al Shabaab attacked our defensive positions...but we later defeated them and kicked them out of the town and surrounding areas,” said Sharif Abdiwahid, a spokesman for the joint force of government troops and Ahlu Sunna Waljamaca militia.
Kenya, east Africa’s largest economy, has long cast a wary eye at its lawless neighbour where first warlords and now Islamist insurgents have reduced government to haplessness.
Those living in Kenya’s remote northeastern provinces have reported increasing cross-border raids by al Shabaab.
Twice hit by al Qaeda-linked attacks, Kenya has trained thousands of Somali recruits to beef up troops loyal to Somali President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, a move that has drawn condemnation from al Shabaab.
“The town is empty now. We can say 90 percent of the people have fled either to Mandera in Kenya or Dollow in Ethiopia,” said Barre Adan Shire, a Somali lawmaker and commander of a local pro-government militia.