MOGADISHU, Somalia — African Union and Somali forces traded fire at a new front line in Mogadishu on Friday, as AU forces gained new territory. The country's president appealed for more international aid, saying the government can't feed all the overwhelming number of Somalis suffering from famine.
The AU military force fears that al-Shabab militants may try to attack the camps that now house tens of thousands of famine refugees in the Somali capital, disrupting food aid. A new offensive to push the militant front line farther back from the camps began Thursday.
A battlefield commander, Col. Paul Lokech, told the Associated Press Friday that a Pakistani fighter was commanding al-Shabab's troops battling his forces nearby, and that the militants were "active." Al-Shabab counts hundreds of foreign fighters among its ranks.
The AU and Somali troops have been fighting a concerted offensive against al-Shabab all year, and have gained a large swath of territory in Mogadishu. The fight took on a new importance in recent days as tens of thousands of famine refugees began squatting in squalid, hunger-filled refugee camps here.
President Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed said Friday that his government has created several refugee camps, but his country needs urgent support because it can't support the level of aid that is needed. Ahmed also said the military has weakened al-Shabab.
The drought and the famine it has caused in Somalia have affected more than 11 million people, including 2.2 million Somalis who live in al-Shabab controlled territory in south-central Somalia where aid groups can't deliver food.
Though the masses arrived in the capital in hopes of finding food, there have been an untold number of deaths in the camps.
Tens of thousands of Somalis have also trekked to neighboring Kenya and Ethiopia, hoping to get aid in refugee camps.