Ethiopian and Somali government troops have scored major advances on Tuesday in their battle with Islamist forces for control of Somalia.
Witness and media reports said the pro-government forces took control of at least four towns in central Somalia - Bur Hakaba, Dinsor, Bandiradley, and Adodo after Islamist fighters withdrew. Islamist officials described the move as a tactical retreat.
A Somali government official said Ethiopian troops are less than 100 kilometers away from the Islamist-held Somali capital, Mogadishu.
A top Islamic courts official, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed said any attempt to take Mogadishu would end in disaster for the attackers.
In Addis Ababa, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said his forces have broken the back of the Islamists. He also said Ethiopian forces would leave Somalia once they complete their mission.
Mr. Meles did not define that mission, but Ethiopia has previously vowed to protect Somalia's secular interim government.
The fighting in Somalia broke out December 19th, after months of rising tension as the Islamists took over much of the country's center and south.
The Islamists had earlier declared a holy war on Ethiopia after it placed troops in the Somali government's home base of Baidoa.
Tuesday's fighting includes at least one new Ethiopian airstrike, on the Islamist-held town of Lego. Ethiopian planes bombed Islamist-held airports in Mogadishu and the town of Baledogle on Monday.
Somalia has not had an effective central government since 1991, when warlords overthrew dictator Mohamed Siad Barre.