When the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) made an incursion into Somalia last October, Al-Shabaab spokesman Ali Mohamud Rage told the BBC:
“Kenya doesn’t know war. We know war. We have fought against governments older and stronger than Kenya and we have defeated them.”
From history, Mr Rage’s words were true. In the last 20 years, Somali fighters have fought and defeated UN and US special forces and Ethiopian troops.
But the reality is different now; Al-Shabaab is besieged in Kismayu after losing a number of key towns. The KDF, whom Sheikh Rage chided, are nearing Biibi town, about 75 kilometres from Kismayu.
Although the Kenyan troops are fighting together with the Somali National Army (SNA) and the Sheikh Ahmed Madobe-led Ras Kamboni Brigade stationed in Sector Two where Kismayu falls, sources intimate that the assault on Kismayu might involve all the forces within the African Union Mission on Somalia (Amisom), namely Uganda, Djibouti, Burundi and even Sierra Leone which is expected to send troops this month.
“We have made advances after capturing one of their key strongholds Afmadow and we are on the way to Kismayu. But the decision on when to take over Kismayu will be made by Amisom,” KDF’s spokesperson, Colonel Cyrus Oguna, told the Sunday Nation.
While addressing journalists at his presidential palace in Villa Somalia last month, President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed said that capturing all towns under the control of Al-Shabaab remained a key goal in bringing lasting peace to the Horn of Africa nation, which has been lawless since 1991.
Previous attempts at capturing Kismayu have ended in bloodbath. In the Jubba regions of southern Somalia bordering Kenya – Lower Jubba, Middle Jubba, and Gedo – there have been persistent fights over land, towns and cities with Kismayu being the epicentre of political and militia elite hoping to control the vast riches of the region.
Disparate claims by the clans about their rights to the sea town have been part of the reason Kismayu has remained contested for over 20 years. Kismayu is the third largest city in Somalia and the administrative city for lower Jubba. It has one of the largest ports in Somalia.
The Islamic Courts Union (ICU) rushed to seize control of Kismayu, ousting warlord Barre Hiraale who had controlled it for many years in September 2006.
Ethiopian troops and the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) also rushed to take control of Kismayu from ICU in early 2007.
The Al-Shabaab also charged for Kismayu in August 2008, emerging victors after three days of fighting and went on to immediately impose their strict interpretation of Shariah law.
The main economic activity in Kismayu is the import and export of goods through the port with charcoal as the main export commodity. Selling of khat is also a big business while farming is practised in the outskirts of the city.
“Capturing Kismayu is important because it will cut the main source of revenue for the Al-Shabaab,” Sheikh Madobe told the Sunday Nation. The Al-Shabaab are almost enclosed in Kismayu after losing a number of key towns.
In the northern sector, allied forces have captured the key towns of Busar, Inda El, Damase and El Afe. In the central sector, Dhobley, Qoqani, Tabta, Hayo and Dabilo are under the control of Amisom troops and friendly forces while southern sector towns such as Ras Kamboni, Burgavo, Kulbio and Badhaadhe are no longer under the control of Al-Shabaab.
“They cannot win this war. We will take Kismayu from them. It’s time they thought about avoiding a bloodbath,” Sheikh Madobe said.
Geddi Ismail, a Somali political analyst based in Nairobi, told SomaliReport that the Al-Shabaab have been weakened to the extent of not being able to defend Kismayu. Already, a number of Al-Shabaab fighters and supporters are said to have fled Kismayu.
They include the commissioner of Kismayu District Hassan Yaqup and other senior officials who are said to have fled to villages close to the beach in Jilib district.
The war on the Al-Shabaab took a new turn last week when the US State Department put a bounty on the heads of seven Al-Shabaab leaders.
After the success of the London and Istanbul conferences on Somalia, there is growing attention by international players on the situation in Somalia.