NAIROBI (AGENCIES) – Ethiopian forces have killed more than 800 members of the al-Qaeda-affiliated militant group, al-Shabab, during days of heavy fighting near the shared border, according to Mustafa Muhumed Omar, President of the Somali Region in Ethiopia.
Among those killed were three senior al-Shabaab leaders, including Fuad Muhammad Khalaf, whose head the US had previously placed a $5 million bounty on.
The Ethiopian official said that in addition to those killed, about one hundred members of the group were also captured.
On July 29. al-Shabab, which has no history of military operations within the Ethiopian territory, has crossed borders with Ethiopia and engaged in a battle with Somali region special forces.
In the first attack, al-Shabab claimed to have killed several members of the Somali regional forces.
The group allegedly killed over 100 Ethiopian forces including policemen and took control of the town of Aato.
Ethiopian military officials however denied these claims saying that only 14 Ethiopian fighters were killed and that the town of Aato was still under the control of its forces.
The Ethiopian Defence Forces (EDF) joined the Special Forces of the Somali Region (SDF) after al-Shabab fighters launched the second round of offensives on a different front.
The joint operation has led to the killing of hundreds of al-Shabab militants, vehicles were destroyed and many weapons were seized.
The militants later fled, after federal forces launched air strikes which hit four of al-Shabab’s vehicles and killed three al-Shabab leaders.
Last week, around 500 al-Shabaab fighters crossed borders into Eastern Ethiopia and launched an attack on the Somali regional cities of Ato and Yed.
The militants reportedly penetrated more than 150 kilometres deep into Ethiopian territory before being stopped in joint military action.
A concerted push by al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabab to expand from Somalia into Ethiopia appears to have been “largely contained,” VOA reported citing a senior U.S. official. official.
The military official however cautioned that the terror group was likely planning more such attacks in the coming months.
The Ethiopian official confirmed that the al-Shabab attack had been repulsed.
“Our brave soldiers foiled a plan al-Shabab had been working on for at least a year and defeated the fighters they sent to Ethiopia within three days,” Omer, told reporters.
He further said that Ethiopia is planning to create a “security buffer zone” aimed at countering al-Shabab attacks.
“We cannot merely watch an open border where the militants mobilize themselves on the other side [of Somalia] to attack us,” he said.
“We must prevent such a threat and not wait until they come to our border,” he added.
Al-Shabab, a designated terrorist entity by the Ethiopian government, has reportedly been trying, for several years, to set up a base in Ethiopia.