The Somali government on Wednesday said government troops have killed hundreds of militants during military operations in the last two months.
In a statement posted by the state-run Somali National Television, the government reported that 1,650 militants were killed and 550 others were injured following military operations in the central Hirshabelle and Galmudug states.
In the same statement, the government claimed that 19 al-Shabab commanders were among those killed, one was injured and three have surrendered to government forces. Casualty figures given by the Somali government have not been independently verified.
Meanwhile, a Somali regional official is calling for an extension of the deadline set for African Union, or AU, troops to leave Somalia, citing al-Shabab attacks and "unstable" political developments.
Mohamud Sayid Aden, the deputy president of Jubaland state, a region where Kenyan and Ethiopian troops operate, said the withdrawal of AU forces from Somalia should be extended until December 2025.
"I say this because the men who are fighting us, the Khawarij [militants], have had plenty of opportunity to reorganize and collect lots of funds," he said during an interview with VOA Somali.
"Khawarij," which means "a deviation from Islam," is a term Somali government officials sometimes use to describe al-Shabab.
"They came up with suicidal plots, prepared entire units determined to kill themselves," he said, adding that he fears the planned December 2024 withdrawal of the last AU troops from south-central Somalia could trigger political instability and disrupt military operations.
Aden was the first Somali official to raise concerns about the drawdown back in July when he told VOA that the plan is "ill-conceived" and "hasty."
The Somali government has recently written to the United Nations Security Council requesting a "technical pause" to the military drawdown of AU forces. The staggered drawdown, which is already partially underway, was scheduled to see 3,000 AU soldiers transfer their forward-operating bases to Somali soldiers by the end of last month. The first base was handed over, but other bases have yet to change hands.
The five African countries with troops in Somalia came out in support of Somalia's request for a 90-day pause.
Aden, who described a three-month-long pause as "short," has called for a review of the timetable to have Somali forces take over responsibilities from AU forces.
"What would be imperative is to have a review of the timing that Somali forces take over security of Somalia and to have a thorough discussion about the quality of the army, equipment and the responsibilities at national and regional levels," he said.
He warned that al-Shabab could take advantage of the current schedule.
Reached by VOA, Somali National Security Advisor Hussein Sheikh-Ali, who wrote the letter to the U.N. requesting the pause, said Somalia is still committed to the full withdrawal of AU forces by December 2024.