Al-Shabaab militants have retreated to their Kismayu stronghold and are arming residents forcibly as Kenyan forces close in on the port town.
Media reports quoting distraught residents said the militants had armed students, mounted weapons on buildings and dug trenches around the town in readiness for the battle with Kenyan forces.
“They have put their weapons over us. Every high house in the city is a defence for Al Shabaab.
“Since Kenya mentioned the 10 towns it was targeting, Al-Shabaab have been readying all their weapons and small arms,” Ms Fatuma Ali was quoted as saying by a local paper.
Another resident, Ms Amina Mahmoud, said: “They gave arms to people and they’re telling them to stay and defend the country from foreigners. They said yesterday evening ‘Everyone of you who dies here is a mujahid and will enter paradise.”
The Kenyan troops plan to capture Afmadow before advancing to Kismayu.
On Thursday, military spokesman Major Emmanuel Chirchir said the Kenya Navy had killed 18 Al-Shabaab militants aboard a small boat transporting fuel to Kuday Town.
“On 2nd November 2011 at 5pm, a skiff laden with 18 Al-Shabaab fighters was transporting fuel to Kuday.
“The Kenya Navy intercepted the skiff and sunk it, killing all the militants,” Major Chirchir said in a statement.
The Kenyan troops have also banned aircraft from landing at Baidoa whose airstrip the military said was used by the militants to ship in three consignments of weapons on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Shoot down any aircraft
The military further warned that it would shoot down any aircraft flying over parts of Southern Somalia where its troops are conducting the operation to wipe out the Al-Shabaab.
“On two occasions, KDF has observed an aircraft overfly our troops in the three sectors. The owners of the aircraft are hereby warned that KDF considers this a security violation.
“Further unauthorised over flying on the said region will be considered a threat. In addition, all aircraft are hereby warned not to land in Baidoa. Anyone violating this will be doing so at their peril,” the statement warned.
The statement also warned Kenyan donkey traders against selling their animals along the Kenya-Somalia border as the militants were buying them to use them to transport weapons due to impassable roads in southern Somalia. (READ: Kenyan army warns of Al-Shabaab donkey threat)
“Information reaching us confirms that Al-Shabaab has resorted to using donkeys to transport their weapons.
“Thus, any large concentration and movement of loaded donkeys will be considered as Al-Shabaab activity,” the statement read.
“Kenyans dealing in donkey trade along the Kenya-Somali border are advised not to sell their animals to Al-Shabaab as it would undermine our efforts in Somalia,” it added.
On Thursday, the Kenyan troops backed by the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) fighters combed Elwak, Beled-hawo and Garbaharey towns for the militants.
A TFG military official, Mr Osman Sheikh Abdi, reportedly told local media that his troops fighting alongside Kenyans had taken control of Al-Shabaabbases in Gadon-dawe, Khadijo-Hajji, El-Adde and El-Gudud without firing a single shot.
But the militants warned Kenyans to prepare for a protracted, intense battle. (READ: Somali rebels push for 'endless war')
“The Al-Shabaab mujahideen will defend Somalia, and will put Kenya into an endless war.
“We will defeat you like the other major countries that have suffered when they attacked Somalia, you will see the consequences,” the group warned in a statement on an Islamist website.
The militia group dismissed reports that they had received weapons from Eritrea. The military said they are going after the militants and their weapons and not civilians.
“We will soon disrupt their flow of arms, and we will ensure they are not effective,” Major Chirchir said on Twitter on Thursday.
There were also reports that the Al-Shabaab were preventing residents from fleeing Kismayu and nine other towns.
“They’ve refused to let us out, and we don’t have any money to leave. Some people are trying to flee but the heavy rain is not giving them a chance,” a resident said.