Top commanders of the reshaped African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom) have been meeting in Nairobi to approve war plans for a massive air, land and sea assault on Kismayu, the last stronghold of Somali terrorist group, Al-Shabaab.
The Nairobi meeting at the weekend was followed by another of regional army chiefs on Monday in Addis Ababa.
But as war plans were being made, the United Nations issued a report warning that an Al-Shabaab support network based in Nairobi “has continued to operate from Kenya with relative freedom” as it plans terror attacks inside Kenya.
Field commanders from the Kenya, Uganda and Burundi contingents presented to the Amisom central command on Saturday at the Department of Defence in Nairobi the final plans to capture Kismayu from Al-Qaeda backed Somali militants.
Military sources told the Nation that the plan later presented to all regional army chiefs — of Kenya, Uganda, Burundi, Ethiopia and Djbouti in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa on Monday — includes use of air and naval strikes to back up the ground troops. The commanders are due for a series of meeting in Nairobi this week to finalise the plans, military sources told the Nation on Tuesday.
The Saturday meeting at the Department of Defence headquarters, Nairobi, was attended by Maj Gen S.N. Karanja, Kenya Air Force commander, Maj-Gen Jeffo Otieno, Military Intelligence Corp boss, Maj-Gen Peter Kameru, all from Kenya, Burundi’s Brig Gen Audace Nduwumunsi, officers from the Ugandan Air Force. Field commanders of Kenyan forces in Somalia and officers commanding the Ugandan contingent in Mogadishu made presentations.
At the Addis Ababa meeting were the chairman of the AU Commission for Somalia, Ambassador Boubacar Diarra, Amisom Force Commander, Lt Gen Andrew Gutti, Deputy Amisom commanders Maj Gen Karanja and Brig Gen Nduwumunsi, Chief of Kenya Defence Forces, Gen Julius Karangi, Chief of Defence Forces Uganda, Gen Aronda Nyakairima, the heads of the Burundian and Djbouti militaries, Secretary-General’s Special Representative and head of the UN Political Office for Somalia Augustine Mahiga and other top military generals from the region.
New Amisom spokesperson Eloi Yao on Tuesday confirmed the regional chiefs had met in Addis Ababa on Monday but said details of the meeting, which looked at the new Amisom structure in Somali, were not yet available.
“The people who attended the meeting are yet to return to station,” he said by telephone.
Amisom, which deployed to Somalia in 2007 with an African Union Peace and Security Council and UN Security Council mandate, this month assumed formal command of the Kenyan forces in southern Somalia, with the added 4,664 Kenyan personnel bringing the Amisom force strength to slightly more than 17,000.
Kenyan troops entered Somalia in October last year and have so far captured the towns of Afgoye corridor, outside of Mogadishu, and also gained control of Balad. However, Kismayu, unlike Afgoye, supplies Al-Shabaab with steady revenue in the form of taxes and is an extremely strategic city because it is home to many top Al-Shabaab leaders.
Al-Shabaab has already lost key battles in Mogadishu after the Ugandan and Burundi forces forced them to withdraw from the capital’s central parts in August, last year — pushing back their frontlines to the city’s surrounding area. The Kenyan forces, with a stream of battlefield successes under their belt, are leading the assault on Kismayo.
The overall commander of the Amisom forces is Ugandan Lt. Gen Guti, deputised by Kenya’s Maj Gen Karanja and Brig Gen Nduwumunsi of Burundi.
The reorganised fighting force has been assigned specific tasks: Kenya is in charge of military intelligence and logistics, the Ugandan contingent has been handed operations and logistics, Burundi is overseeing communications and planning while Djibouti, whose forces arrived in May, is in charge of civil-military relations. Sierra Leone, which has sent a battalion, has taken charge of training.
In its report issued on Monday, the UN said an Al-Shabaab support network based in Nairobi “has continued to operate from Kenya with relative freedom” as it plans terror attacks inside Kenya.
The Muslim Youth Centre, which changed its name to Al-Hijra early this year, “seeks to use its sanctuaries in Somalia as springboards for terrorist acts in Kenya, deploying several operational cells to Kenya in recent months for this purpose,” states the report by the UN’s Somalia sanctions monitoring group.
“Muslim Youth Centre has not only changed its name, but reorganised its membership and finances in order to permit its organisation, Pumwani Riyadha Mosque Committee in Nairobi, to continue funding Al-Shabaab,” the report adds. The mosque’s Imaam Ezudin Muruiki denied the allegations saying his mosque has never conducted any illegal activities.
“Those are just allegations, we have never done anything against the will of God,” Mr Muruiki told the Nation on phone.
He said if the UN had decided to release the report and paint them in bad faith then it was their decision and they could not do anything.