MOGADISHU, Somalia, Aug. 28 (UPI) -- Somali and African Union AMISOM forces have retaken Somalia's coastal city Marka from al-Shabaab militants.
"We have taken Marka, we entered alongside the Somali government forces this morning," said AU Mission in Somalia spokesman Ali Houmed. "There was some fighting, but not so heavy, most of the al-Shaabab had fled."
Marka had been under al-Shaabab's control since November 2008.
"It was very tense in Marka, we are still very worried," resident Omar Nuur told Garowe Online. "Before they (al-Shabaab), left they killed four people. We are hopefully waiting for change."
Residents said several top al-Shabaab officials lived in the city before they were driven out.
AMISOM Force Commander Lt. Gen. Andrew Gutti said that the capture of Marka would enhance security across Somalia by denying the terrorists a base from which to launch attacks.
"AMISOM is committed to supporting the peace process in Somalia and this operation will not only bring relief to the population in Marka but will also help in the liberation of Kismayo," Gutti said. "Our aim is to ensure that all the people of Somalia can freely participate in the process of national reconciliation."
The loss of Marka, 44 miles south of Mogadishu, leaves al-Shabaab in control of two major ports in southern Somalia -- Barawe and Kismayo. Kismayo is under an international naval blockade.
Marka was used as a revenue base by al-Shabbab, and its loss has decreased the group's revenue.
The potential fall of Kismayo is also significant as piracy from the area had been an important source of revenue for al-Shabaab. However, an international coalition of about 30 warships, including vessels from several NATO members along with India, China, Russia and Japan has deployed to the region in an attempt to contain the problem.
Piracy is big business. Kenyan Foreign Minister Moses Wetangula estimated that Somali pirates are receiving more than $150 million annually in ransom payments.
Since al-Shabaab abandons its fixed bases in Mogadishu, its members are reverting to guerrilla tactics. They have claimed responsibility a series of suicide attacks and improvised explosive devices roadside bombs, Garowe Online reported.
The latest military defeat for al-Shabaab militants comes as candidates for Somalia's powerful position of Parliament's speaker campaign for election. Former Labor Minister Mohamed Osman Jawari won the vote Tuesday.