US planes join Kenyan battle

Al Shabaab militants were on the back foot on Saturday evening as they faced heavy bombardment from multiple fronts from a combined force of Kenyan troops, US drones, African Union peacekeepers and Transitional Federal Government fighters.

Reports from the battlefront indicated that Kenyan troops were advancing towards four al Shabaab-controlled towns as they launched a final push to capture the Kismayu port and Afmadow in Central Jubaland.

There was progress on the diplomatic front, too, when the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (Igad) member states endorsed the military offensive against the militants during a special conference held in Addis Abba Ethiopia on Friday.

The Igad Council of Ministers urged the United Nations Security Council to impose a blockade on Kismayu, a move which will effectively cut off billions of shillings collected by the militants to fund their insurgency.

A statement from the military said Kenyan security forces were advancing towards Burgavo town in southern Somalia after capturing Oddo on Friday. (READ: Kenya targets al Shabaab’s lifeline)

Another group was marching towards the town of Badade from the direction of Kolbio which they conquered on Friday. The troops had earlier bombed areas around Munarani near Oddo from the air, flattening an al Shabaab command centre. 

A third company was moving towards the town of Hayo in Central Jubaland after the heavy rains that have been pounding the area subsided.

Simultaneously, fighters allied to the TFG were closing in on Afmadow amid reports that al Shabaab militants were regrouping in the town of Bula Haji and heading towards Afmadow.

It is expected that a deadly confrontation between the Kenyan and TFG troops on one side and the militants on the other may be witnessed in that town.  

The al Shabaab militants are reported to have sent fighters around the River Juba area in a bid to stop Kenya and Somalia troops from advancing into Kismayu territories in a bid to cut off billions of shillings they earn in port fees and illegal sale of contrabands goods.

The Kenya army alone is reported to have deployed at least 4,000 soldiers backed by Transitional Federal Somalia Government troops for a ground invasion of Kismayu.

Navy ships fitted with heavy weapons are reported to have arrived in the Somalia territorial waters and set up base around Bajuni Islands of Kudai, Ndoa, Chuvaye, Koyama, Fuma Iyu na Tini and Nchoni Islands.

Reports which could not independently be verified emerged that at least 44 militants were killed following a deadly attack by US drones in Ras Kiamboni on Friday. 

A day earlier, another 22 militants had been killed in a similar attack in Kudhaa Island near the Kenyan border, according to reports carried by Press TV.

In Dhobley, one of the six former al Shabaab strongholds so far captured by the Kenyan forces, Kenyan soldiers were being hailed as heroes after pushing out the militants who have been oppressing locals for years.

The locals were even volunteering intelligence information on al Shabaab to the Kenyan troops according to a TFG military official Major Mudu Mohammed who spoke to the Sunday Nation.

“Civilians are giving Kenyan soldiers information on the hideouts of al Shabaab who have terrorised them for so long,” he said.

Maj Mohammed said that majority of al Shabaab’s victims were women and children as most of the young men had fled for fear of being captured and forcefully recruited into the militant group.

“Most of the young men have escaped from their villages fearing being conscripted into al Shabaab,” he added.

At a press conference in Dhobley town, the spokesman for the TFG forces and the Ras Kiamboni BrIgade, Mr Abdi Nassir Serar, thanked Kenyan troops for liberating the region and rescuing locals from the grip of al Shabaab.

“Kenyan soldiers have been very supportive, they have been aiding civilians by flushing out al Shabaab insurgents using both land and air,” said Mr Serar, speaking through an interpreter.

A TFG soldier, Aden Omar, who is among nine others recovering at the Dhobley General Hospital is among the fighters who was rescued by Kenyan troops after being tortured and left for dead by the militants.

“We were patrolling Hawana area near Tabda town six days ago after we managed to take it from the al Shabaab, but they regrouped and staged a retaliatory attack and I was shot from behind while in keeping guard,” said Omar who is nursing two bullet wounds on both feet.

Meanwhile, the African Union on Friday dismissed claims by Somali insurgents that they had killed dozens of alliance soldiers in Mogadishu, contending that Shabaab had dressed the corpses of its own dead in AU uniforms as a propaganda stunt.

The Islamist militia displayed dozens of bodies on the outskirts of the war-torn Somali capital on Thursday, claiming to have killed about 70 peacekeepers.

Ongoing operation

Somali press also reported that the militants had turned on residents of one of their strongholds, Afmadow in Lower Jubba in Southern Somalia accusing them of supporting the ongoing operation.

“The al Shabaab group has arrested a number of civilian people in the town of Afmadow in Lower Jubba region of southern Somalia,” reported the Shabelle news.

“The fighters of the insurgent group seized people accusing them of supporting the Kenyan forces who entered Somalia to fight al Shabaab.

Reports say that the 18 apprehended people were taken into custody. Well-known businessmen were among those arrested,” the report added.

A local radio station also reported that over 60 al Shabaab militants had been injured during fierce battles with the Kenyan troops in Tabto and Qoqani which have been since captured by the Kenya Defence Forces.

“Over 60 wounded al Shabaab fighters have been taken to Kismayu town for treatment after they were injured during the recent clashes in Tabto and Qoqani, Lower Jubba.

Reports say militia from Ag-Libah and Hosingow who were wounded in an arterial bombardment of foreign warplanes have also been taken to Kismayo,” said Radio Bar-kulan.

- Additional reporting by Issa Hussein, GALGAL BOCHA and Argaw Ashine