- Beledweyne is a key trading town near Somalia's border with Ethiopia
- Witnesses say troops fought Al-Shabaab militants for several hours
- Ethiopian officials confirm their troops were involved, but do not elaborate
Backed by Ethiopian forces, Somali troops have wrested control of a key trading town after fierce fighting with Islamic militants, officials with Somalia's transitional government and witnesses said Saturday.
"Our forces achieved a great victory and have driven out of Beledweyne all the forces of the al Qaeda-linked Al-Shabaab terrorists," Defense Minister Hussein Arab Isse said.
Beledweyne is a crucial trading point near the Ethiopian border, linking south and central regions of Somalia.
"All sections of Beledweyne are under our control, Isse said. "The only things remaining are (checking) operations to secure the city and make sure that no terrorists are hiding among the residents."
Hashi Olow, a resident in Beledweyne, said the fighting last for at least six hours.
''It was really tense and I saw 10 dead bodies which I believe were Al-Shabaab fighters,'' Olow said, adding he saw convoys of Ethiopian and Somali forces inside the town.
Ethiopian government officials confirmed their troops were involved in the operation to take control of Beledweyne, but would not elaborate.
On Thursday, African Union forces in Somalia reported that they had successfully pushed Al-Shabaab out of Mogadishu, the capital.
The African Union Mission in Somalia, known as AMISOM, is trying to consolidate power for Somalia's weak transitional federal government in Mogadishu, where Al-Shabaab had been especially active in its battle against that government.
Al-Shabaab is linked to al Qaeda and is considered a terrorist group by the United States.
In Mogadishu, the group was using conventional military tactics, terrorism and propaganda in its fight against the government.
AMISOM is now expanding its forces into areas surrounding the capital, an African Union commander said.
Other forces are fighting Al-Shabaab in Somalia as well.
Kenyan forces entered Somalia in October after a rash of kidnappings Kenyan authorities blamed on Al-Shabaab.
Kenyan officials say the kidnappings threatened security and constituted an attack on Kenyan sovereignty. Kenyan forces are ultimately seeking to take the Somali port city of Kismayo, described by the United Nations as a key stronghold and source of cash for Al-Shabaab.