Heavy fighting broke out Friday close to Somalia's border with Kenya as extremist al Shabaab fighters launched an early attack on the town of Dhobley before being forced to withdraw, according to reports.

"The fighting was very heavy but we emerged victorious, there are casualties on both sides," a senior commander of the Azania militia group controlling told the AFP by phone from the battleground.

The fighting took place in Dhobley, a town under control of forces from the self-declared state of Azania, an anti-al Shabaab militia, also said to be loyalists to the Somalian transitional government.

"We have fully regained Dhobley after a fight, the Shebab were pushed out of the area," the commander added, declining to be named.

Six al-Shabab militants were killed in the fighting and government forces also suffered casualties but reports also say civilian casualties are high as the fighting took place in the inside of the town.

A senior al Shabaab commander however seemed to suggest that far from being defeated, his soldiers had just retreated in an area near of the town.

"The enemy suffered heavy casualties as planned, and we will return back again when it is good for us," said Sheikh Mohamed, also adding that Shabaab fighters had also seized large stores of weapons from the town.

While al-Shabab fighters were driven out of Somalia's capital, Mogadishu, by troops from the African Union and the transitional government earlier on this year, they still control large sections of southern and central Somalia.

Somalia is crippled by a famine that threatens to cause millions of death and the according to the United Nation most of the regions where famine has been declared are under al-Shabab control.

The militant group has banned most foreign aid groups from operating in areas under its control.

Dhobley is just five kilometres (three miles) from the Kenyan border, where the U.N. refugee agency said about 1,200 Somalis are crossing into Kenya on a daily basis, to go to the Dadaab refugee camp which currently hosts 440,000 refugees.