Troops gear up for Kismayu assault
Posted Sunday, August 12 2012 at 23:30
- African Union troops are gearing up for the final push against extremists in a conflict that will give war-torn country the first real chance at peace for more than 20 years
The long-planned assault on Somalia’s southern port town of Kismayu by the Kenya Defence Forces and their Amisom allies is probably only days away in what will be a decisive week for Somalia.
Sources believe the massive build-up of troops, the escalating “probing attacks” to test Al-Shabaab defences, as well as the increased aerial surveillance, are all indications of an imminent large-scale offensive.
Kenyan Navy warships shelled Al-Shabaab targets overnight while Amisom reconnaissance planes were spotted over Kismayu on Saturday.
A Somali source well informed on developments in the Jubba Valley told the Daily Nation that many influential local actors in the region believe the attack will be launched later this week.
Military sources told the Daily Nation that aerial surveillance and reconnaissance flights conducted by Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), or drones, started on Saturday.
KDF refers to the initial attacks as “shaping-up operations”.
A seemingly sophisticated and well-choreographed military strategy designed to dislodge Al-Shabaab was agreed after top commanders of the reshaped African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom) concluded their planning meetings on Thursday, August 9, in Nairobi.
The field commanders from the Kenyan, Ugandan and Burundian contingents flew back to their bases on Friday morning.
The assault, which will include air and naval strikes to support the ground troops, was earlier meant to start by August 8, but was pushed back after field commanders were asked to modify their strategy following a series of meetings in July in Nairobi, including a comprehensive brief for the regional army chiefs that took place on July 23 in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.
Kenyan troops, now in Afmadow are expected to advance towards Kismayu, probably using Biibi, a town located 75 kilometres from Kismayu, as a forward operations base.
They are expected to fight alongside Ethiopian units and allied militia. The Ethiopian air force may also take part in the air bombardment.
Sources familiar with military thinking suggest that the initial air strikes would target Al-Shabaab command and control sites, troop concentrations and convoys and defensive fortifications.
Two potential targets are Kismayu Stadium, believed to be a key logistical and operational hub, and Jilib Beach District, where senior Al-Shabaab commanders are thought to live.
The KDF plans to establish a major logistical facility in Buale District, Jubba region, for which it has assembled an assortment of lethal hardware, including armoured personnel carriers (APCs) and battle tanks.
Meanwhile, Ugandan and Burundian contingents will support Kenyan ground troops with four infantry battalions. Some of these troops are already on their way to Kismayu, having taken control of Afgoye and a string of coastal villages in Lower Juba. Other troops will be inserted into the theatre of operations by air, sources said.
From inside Kismayu, Al-Shabaab were tweeting that the attacks had started.