African Union (AU) forces are battling al-Shabab militants in famine stricken Somalia in an attempt to thwart militants from blocking desperately needed food aid.
The battle to secure aid routes for drought victims began on Thursday, just a day after the United Nations World Food Program began airlifting food and supplies into Somalia's capital city of Mogadishu.
AU forces, which also include Somali nationals, have gained ground against the al-Shabab militants that count hundreds of foreign fighters among their ranks.
The two groups have been fighting for upwards of a year but the stakes have grown with famine bringing a new found urgency into Somalia.
On Friday, AU troops and militants shot fire across a newly established front line and upwards of 27 civilians were injured during the fighting.
AU forces have released information that they had gained ground in one of the largest markets in Somalia's capital, controlling the east, south, and west sides of the market.
Al-Shabab militants are using this market to block much needed food aid to starving and malnourished citizens suffering from the worst drought the Horn of Africa has seen in 60 years.
A battlefield commander for the AU, Col. Paul Lokech, expressed his opinion that the militants have stepped up their resistance due to concerns over AU gains in and around Mogadishu telling the Associated Press, "They're worried about the ground they have lost."
AU forces are aiming to move up into Mogdishu's main sports stadium in the coming weeks, as al-Shabab militants use it as their main base.
The recent battles between the two forces follow intelligence reports that indicated that al-Shabab had been potentially preparing to make an attack on camps that provide food aid for internally displaced Somalis that have traveled north to Mogadishu for help.
The south-central regions of Somalia have already been declared as famine zones, and the famine is likely to spread so long as food distributions are blocked by militants.
The militants have argued that they want to keep out aid groups they consider to be 'Western or Christian,' even if these groups offer the only lifeline to the 2.2 million Somalis that are suffering as a result of the drought.
Children have been the most vulnerable to the famine, war, and extremism that has engulfed the eastern African nation. Exemplary of this reality is the three al-Shabab militants that recently surrendered to AU forces. They were mere teenagers and children of war, ages 14, 15, and 17.