Thousands of residents lined up along the streets of Afmadow on Thursday to welcome Kenyan troops after they defeated Al-Shabaab militants who were using the town as their key logistical base alongside Kismayu in southern Somalia. (READ: Kenyan forces seize key town from Shabaab)
But the celebrations of the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) after an empathic win in which they suffered no casualties was short-lived when commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Jeff Nyaga, asked them to get “back to work”.
The troops hurriedly moved to mark out the town in preparation for another assault to liberate the remaining Al-Shabaab bastion, the port of Kismayu.
Sources indicate that KDF might also have to fight for the port from other AU Mission in Somalia (Amisom) forces, who are already in the final stages of leading an attack against Al-Shabaab in the town.
Kismayu is viewed as the “war trophy” in the fight against Al-Shabaab and whoever captures the coastal town is said to be better positioned in the new security and political hierarchy in the Horn of Africa.
Burundi and Uganda forces have been playing a leading role in the Amisom operations and there are reports that their forces are moving southwards.
The officer commanding the Ethiopian army contingent stated on May 19 that capturing Kismayu would not be a problem for their troops.
Last Saturday, the Kenyan troops were officially integrated into Amisom after Defence Minister Yusuf Haji and AU Commissioner for Peace and Security Ramtane Lamamra signed a Memorandum of Understanding in Addis Ababa.
Kenya operates in sector two, which covers regions south of Mogadishu. Sierra Leone troops are expected to join the Kenyans this month.
“We are not very far from Kismayu, but we can’t say when we are taking over,” Mr Haji said during the signing of the MoU.
Although it took the Kenyan forces several months to capture Afmadow, KDF’s intention is to liberate Kismayu as soon as possible especially after intelligence reports indicated that other forces within Amisom had their plans ready.
Nation investigations have established that Kenyan generals are not living anything to chance to “avoid embarrassment just in case the other troops get to Kismayu first”.
Last week, Chief of Kenya Defence Forces, Gen Julius Karangi, said Kismayu would be taken before the mandate of the AU-backed Transitional Federal Government ends on August 20.
Kenya has already established a working relationship with the Somali National Army (SNA) and the Ras Kamboni Brigade (RKB) led by Sheikh Ahmed Madobe in readiness for a Kismayu assault.
“Sheikh Madobe is an important asset if we are to finalise our mission in Somalia. He has controlled Kismayu port before and almost the entire Juba regions.
“We are working with him and SNA to ensure that the whole of the Southern region that includes Kismayu is liberated from Al-Shabaab,” Lt. Col. Nyaga said.
KDF is also planning to move its military camp from Bellesc Qoqani to Afmadow, which is nearer Kismayu.
On Thursday, the Kenya Navy shelled Kismayu after Al-Shabaab militants fired at Kenyan warships patrolling Somali coast. This was the first bombardment of Kismayu by the Kenyans naval ships.
Brigadier General Ismail Sahardid, who is in charge of SNA’s southern region, told Nation that KDF was better placed to capture Kismayu because of the tremendous progress it has made in the southern sector unlike the other forces which have not been operating from the region.