Special forces stage helicopter raid on Somalia's Shebab

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Mogadishu (AFP)

Special forces operatives in two helicopters have carried out a raid on Somalia's Shebab insurgents, government officials and the Al-Qaeda-linked group said Wednesday.

The overnight raid, reportedly by foreign troops, targeted the Shebab-controlled town of Awdhegele, some 50 kilometres (30 miles) west of Somalia's capital Mogadishu.

"There was an operation by Special Forces late last night around Awdhegele town. We have reports Shebab militants suffered casualties," local district commissioner Mohamed Aweys told reporters.

There were no details on who carried out the raid, but it comes after US air strikes on Saturday on a Shebab training camp that killed more than 150 fighters.

While the US military regularly conducts operations targeting the Al-Qaeda-linked fighters in Somalia, Saturday's raid had a higher toll than all previous such US strikes combined. Warplanes and unmanned drones were used in Saturday's strike, about 120 miles (195 kilometres) north of Mogadishu.

The Shebab group confirmed the helicopter raid overnight on Tuesday, but said they fought the troops off.

"Armed forces on two military helicopters raided Awdhegele town last night - but they have lost and returned without achieving their objective," Shebab spokesman Sheik Abduasiz Abu Musab said, in a speech broadcast on the insurgent's Radio Andalus.

"The helicopters landed outside town and the ground forces entered, there was heavy fighting and they were forced to flee."

The Shebab said they did not know what country the troops came from but that they were not Somali and spoke a foreign language.

It was not clear what the troops were targeting, but past helicopter raids have only been carried out either to rescue hostages or to assassinate senior Shebab commanders.

Witnesses said they heard loud blasts in the night, reporting that the Shebab had boosted security this morning.

"There were several loud explosions near the Shebab base in Awdhegele late last night," local resident Abdikarim Nure said. "The fighters were patrolling the area this morning, and people are not allowed to go close to the area."

Foreign special forces have launched raids to rescue their nationals, including one in 2012 by US elite commandos who swooped in by helicopter to free two aid workers held for three months.

France also staged a special forces raid in January 2013 in an unsuccessful bid to free intelligence agent Denis Allex.