MOGADISHU (Reuters) - Somalia's government said on Wednesday 49 al Shabaab fighters had been killed in a military operation in Lower Shabelle region, the latest in a months-long campaign aimed at seizing territory long held by the Islamist group.
Al Shabaab, an al Qaeda franchise which controls large swathes of the country, claimed responsibility for two car bombs that killed at least 120 people in the capital Mogadishu in October.
The militia's restrictions on international aid have compounded the impact of the worst drought in four decades, officials say, leaving the country on the brink of famine.
Government forces, supported by clan militias and, at times, African Union troops, have made a number of battlefield gains against al Shabaab in the last three months.
Somalia's special forces, together with its intelligence agency and "international security partners", destroyed a number of military vehicles and a weapons dump in Bulo-Madino village in Lower Shabelle region on Tuesday evening, the ministry of information said in a statement.
Al Shabaab could not immediately be reached for comment.
Four residents of Afgoye district, around 25 km north-west of the capital Mogadishu, said they heard large explosions on Tuesday evening, but were not aware of the village's location or of the number of casualties.
"Last night, the whole earth shook. We heard two huge air strikes," said Ali Farah, a local bus driver.
The United States' military has conducted several air strikes against the al Shabaab this year, but said it was not involved in Tuesday's raid.
Government forces have killed more than 600 al Shabaab fighters, injured 1,200 others and recaptured 68 settlements in the last three months, as part of Somalia's "military, economic and ideological" war on the insurgents, Prime Minister Hamza Abdi Barre said in a statement on Wednesday.
(Reporting by Abdi Sheikh and Hereward Holland; Writing by Hereward Holland; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)