22 February 2012 Last updated at 09:46 ETAU forces are targeting al-Shabab militants on several different fronts
Ethiopian and Somali troops have taken a strategic stronghold of Islamist militants in south-western Somalia.
Eyewitnesses told the BBC that about 50 vehicles, including some 20 tanks, had entered Baidoa, which was not defended.
The BBC's Mohamed Dhore in the capital, Mogadishu, says Baidoa was the most important al-Shabab base after the southern port of Kismayo.
Al-Shabab, which has recently joined al-Qaeda, confirmed that it had withdrawn its forces.
It said that it would start a guerrilla war in response.
Correspondents say the timing of the Ethiopian offensive is significant as the UK is holding a conference on Somalia on Thursday.
It also comes as diplomats say the UN Security Council is to vote to increase the African Union force in Somalia to 17,731 soldiers from its current level of 12,000.
Witnesses say that after fierce fighting on Tuesday, al-Shabab fighters left Baidoa, which was taken without a battle.
BBC Somali service analyst Abdullahi Sheikh says Baidoa is a big loss to al-Shabab, as the main road linking Mogadishu to the south-west and parts of Kenya and Ethiopia passes through the city.
It is also the business route for most commodities that are transported from Mogadishu to other towns in the region.
Al-Shabab still controls many southern and central areas of the country but is also under pressure from Kenyan forces in the south.
Last year, AU troops in support of the UN-backed government pushed al-Shabab out of the capital.
However, the militants continue to stage suicide attacks in the city.
Article Source : BBC News
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