Kenya is mobilizing for the final push to capture Kismayu, the capital of the terrorist Somali group Al Shabaab.
The new military stance was the centerpiece of President Kibaki’s Madaraka Day speech on Friday in which he warned terrorists that Kenyans would never surrender to them.
The President’s warning followed the most direct reference to the impending offensive by the Chief of Kenya Defence Force, Gen Julius Karangi.
Gen Karangi said Kismayu, a major source of financing for Al Shabaab, would be taken before the mandate of the weak African-backed transitional federal government (TFG) ends on August 20.
“We continue to exert pressure on Al Shabaab,” said Gen Karangi, whose troops fighting in southern Somalia have joined the 11,000-strong African Union force in Somalia (Amisom).
“Kismayu... this target will happen before August when the TFG mandate expires,” he added.
Kenyan forces this week took the Al Shabaab stronghold of Afmadow to the South of Somalia while Ugandan and Burundian troops captured Afgoye to follow on their success in Mogadishu.
Addressing the public at Nairobi’s Nyayo National Stadium during the 49th Madaraka Day celebrations, the Head of State said the government will hunt down and deal firmly with those threatening the country’s national security.
“As a nation, we will never be intimidated. We shall deal firmly with you,” said the President.
“We are also telling those who threaten us that we will not relent in taking steps that will guarantee our national security...we will hunt down and deal with those who pose danger to our people,” he went on.
Significantly, Friday's celebrations did not feature the usual ceremonial fly past by Kenya Air Force jets, to be replaced by a single helicopter hovering above the venue.
Gen Karangi spoke as Kenya Navy vessels shelled Al Shabaab watch stations in Kismayu destroying two and killing 14, according to the military.
But the successes inside Somalia have come at a cost with Al Shabaab appearing to intensify grenade attacks in Wajir and Monday’s blast at a shopping centre on Nairobi’s Moi Avenue which left one dead and three dozen injured.
And the international engagement in a post civil war Somalia was evident with Turkey hosting regional leaders, including Prime Minister Raila Odinga in discussing the future of the war ravaged country.
Earlier, Gen Karangi expressed optimism that the AU troops will seize the last key bastion of Somalia’s Al-Qaeda linked Al Shabaab insurgents within three months.
Hardline Al Shabaab fighters are now left with the port town of Kismayu as the last major town they control, and have in recent months switched to guerrilla tactics as regional forces wrest territory from them.
President Kibaki said Kenya’s security was tied to peace and stability in his neighbouring countries - Somalia being one of them.
“The situation in Somalia has reached a critical stage. In the next two months, a new government is expected to take over from the TFG,” said the President.
“We trust that this development will set Somalia on a clear path to peace, stability and development ,” he went on.
“The success of the ongoing efforts require total commitment of the Somalis, regional states and international partners. I call upon them to demonstrate full commitment and help Somalia move forward.”
President Kibaki’s warning comes just days after a blast ripped through the Assanands House in Nairobi’s Moi Avenue on Monday.
US forensic experts have been supporting Kenyan police to scour the Nairobi blast site for clues.
Another explosion hit a small eatery in Wajir, northern Kenya, killing one and injuring three others.
On Friday, the militia warned of an imminent attack in Kenya threatening to bring down tall buildings within two weeks.
The latest threat by Al-Shabaab is the third such warning.
In October last year, the militant group said it would target Kenya’s tall buildings, just days after the country sent troops into Somalia in pursuit of Al Shabaab. A second threat followed in December.
Al Shabaab still controls large parts of southern Somalia, but AU troops, government forces and Ethiopian soldiers have clawed several key bases from the insurgents in recent months.
The Al Shabaab said Tuesday they had engaged in a fierce exchange of gunfire with foreign warships off the coast of Kismayu that Kenya identified as its vessels.
“Kenya navy vessels received fire from a hostile Al-Shabaab watch tower off the coast of Kismayu... we engaged them and destroyed the watch tower,” said military spokesman Colonel Cyrus Oguna.
“We shall be engaging them off the coast of Kismayu as and when opportunity presents itself.”