At least 173 Al-Shabaab militants have been killed and 55 others captured by Puntland forces in two counteroffensives in Suuj valley and Dhinowda areas, officials said on Tuesday.
Speaking to reporters in Garowe town, Puntland Information Minister, Mohamud Hassan So’adde said that 173 fighters including foreign fighters were killed by Puntland in the last one week in Suuj and Dhinowda villages while 55 militiamen were nabbed with their riffles.
Puntland forces have been combating Al-Shabaab fighters who reached Gara’ad town by Boats mid this month.
He said more than 500 militants, who stormed the region, have now been neutralized by the Puntland forces, and the forces are also pursing those who escaped.
On Monday Puntland forces paraded over thirty men said to have been Al-Shabaab fighters.
Some of the captives who spoke to the media during the parading said they were lured by Al-Shabaab leaders for jobs and education in Yemen but ended up fighting alongside them when they were attacked by Puntland forces.
‘’I wanted to get education and they promised me that they will provide it to me. I never knew that I will end up in this kind of situation. My parents never knew about that at all,’’ 15-year-old boy, who identified himself as Jama, said.
Another prisoner who said was a resident of Hudur district, claimed that he was abducted by Al-Shabaab recruiters as he was en route to visit his mother in Mogadishu.
‘’They arrested me and later on told me that I was part of their national army. I was trained for two months how to fight,” he said.
Somali Islamist militants briefly held a port town of Gara’ad in the semi-autonomous region of Puntland mid this month before withdrawing early next day following offensives from Puntland forces.
Puntland, which occupies a region of northeastern Somalia, declared itself to be an autonomous state in 1998 but remains under the purview of the Somali federal government. It borders the breakaway state of Somaliland, which declared independence following the overthrow of Somali military dictator Siad Barre in 1991.
Puntland lies outside the area of operation of the African Union mission in Somalia—known as AMISOM—which deploys some 22,000 troops in the Horn of Africa state. AMISOM and the Somali National Army drove Al-Shabab out of its strongholds in southern Somalia in 2015, but the group has since reportedly moved northwards into parts of Puntland.