AFMADOW, Somalia, June 1 (UPI) -- Kenyan and Somali forces say they have captured a key Somali town from the al-Qaida-linked militant group al-Shabaab.
The al-Shabaab militants withdrew from the southern Somali town of Afmadow, about 70 miles from Kismayo, al-Shabaab's headquarters, without a fight, The Guardian of Britain reported.
The Kenyan troops, who comprise an African Union contingent in southern Somalia, have been targeting Afmadow since entering Somalia in October and hope to take Kismayo.
Abdiweli Mohamed Ali, the interim prime minister of Somalia, told the BBC: "Hopefully, the next target will be Kismayo and then we will proceed to other towns and cities. Surely but slowly, we're getting our country back from al-Shabaab."
Col. Cyrus Oguna, a spokesman for the Kenyan army, told the British broadcaster he hopes the AU force can take Kismayo before Aug. 20, the deadline for a transition that calls for a new constitution and Parliament and the election of a president in Somalia.
Somalia analyst Mohammed Abdulahi Hassan noted a network of roads from Afmadow leads to places throughout Somalia and said the militants weren't likely to have the "military muscle to retake the town from the Kenya defense forces".
Al-Shabaab withdrew from most of Mogadishu in August and, last Friday, from the strategic stronghold Afgoye, 20 miles from the capital. But the militants still hold much of southern Somalia and have limited access to aid agencies and imposed Shariah law in places.
Augustine Mahiga, the U.N. secretary-general's special representative to Somalia, noted the Aug. 20 deadline and said: "Somalia is less than 90 days away from the most momentous event in its recent history. There is not a moment to spare as Somalia and its partners get down to work and ensure this process is participatory, legitimate, inclusive, transparent and, above all, Somali-owned."
Aid agencies say an estimated 2.5 million people still need humanitarian aid and 1.4 million have been displaced from their farms and homes.
On Monday, 15 relief agencies warned against ignoring humanitarian needs.
"Agencies are fearful that a political vision for Somalia's future development may come at the cost of life-saving interventions," said the agencies, which include Care International, Italy's Cooperazione Internazionale, Mercy Corps and the International Rescue Committee.
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