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Offensive launched to protect Somali relief effort
AU troops launch offensive in Somalia's capital to protect famine relief efforts
By The Associated Press

MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) ' African Union forces have launched an offensive in Somalia's capital so aid agencies can get emergency food supplies to thousands of starving people without coming under attack from al-Qaida-linked militants, an official said Thursday.

The al-Shabab fighters already have killed men who tried to escape the famine with their families, saying it is better to starve than accept help from the West.

Lt. Col. Paddy Ankunda said Thursday that AU peacekeeping forces have conducted a "short tactical offensive operation" in Mogadishu.

"This action will further increase security ... and ensure that aid agencies can continue to operate to get vital supplies to internally displaced," he said.

The devastating famine in the Horn of Africa threatens al-Shabab's hold on areas under its control, with the militants fearing that the disaster will drive away the people they tax and conscript into military service.

In the past, the militants have blocked aid workers from helping those in need in Somalia, fearing that foreign assistance would undermine their control.

A World Food Program plane with 10 tons of peanut-butter paste landed Wednesday in Mogadishu, the first of several planned airlifts in coming weeks.

That will help, but Lt. Col. Kuamurari Katwekyeire, the civil-military coordination chief for the African Union Mission in Somalia, known as AMISOM, said the U.N. and other aid groups need to do more.

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