A spokesman for Somalia’s transitional government has insisted Ethiopian troops have a limited mandate in the country and will soon be withdrawn. It comes as Somali pro-government forces, backed by thousands of Ethiopian soldiers, continue their advance on the country’s capital. Locals welcomed the armoured convoys as they swept through Balad, the last major town on the road to Mogadishu. The rapid offensive is aimed at removing the Council of Islamic Courts from power.
News of a plan to force the Islamists to surrender by laying siege to the capital has been welcomed by many. In the last week, the fighting has spiralled into open warfare, which its feared could engulf the Horn of Africa and entice foreign jihadists to get involved. In recent days, the joint forces have forced the Islamists to withdraw from large swathes of territory.
Earlier, the African Union and the Arab League issued a joint demand that all foreign troops leave Somalia. There is panic in Mogadishu, with many planning to flee ahead of any fighting. There are fears that the fighting could trigger a humanitarian crisis, in a region already struggling with the aftermath of devastating floods.