March 18, 2016 / 2:44 PM / 2 years ago

Somalia's Puntland says gains ground in fight with Islamists

BOSASSO, Somalia (Reuters) - Security forces in Somalia’s semi-autonomous region of Puntland killed more than 60 Islamist militants and regained some territory in a counter-offensive against al Shabaab, regional officials said.

The militant group has become more active in Puntland, a large part of northern Somalia, since moving more forces there after being pushed out of strongholds farther south by an African Union force and the Somali National Army, experts and officials say.

Al Shabaab, which wants to overthrow the Western-backed government, controlled Mogadishu for several years until 2011 when African Union forces drove it out.

Omar Abdullahi, a regional governor, told Reuters that Puntland forces had killed 19 militants on Thursday and lost two of their own troops in fighting for an area called Baadqab, 90 km (55 miles) southwest of Puntland’s capital Garowe

He said his forces were still pursuing al Shabaab fighters.

Puntland police officer Major Mohamed Abdullahi said 22 al Shabaab fighters had been killed in three days of fighting that was still going on in the Zuuj hills region, and that four soldiers were killed.

“We have besieged them but fighting is not over,” he said.

There was no immediate comment from al Shabaab, which usually gives far lower numbers of casualties on its side and much higher death tolls for the security forces.

On Friday, the government in Mogadishu sent extra military supplies by plane to help the Puntland forces, Information Minister Mohamed Abdi Hayir said on state radio.

Writing by Edmund Blair and George Obulutsa; Editing by Robin Pomeroy

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