Kenyan troops on Thursday killed nine Al-Shabaab fighters and injured several others in a fierce exchange of fire after they were ambushed by the militants in Southern Somalia.
The Kenyan troops were ambushed by an estimated 45 Al-Shabaab fighters as they moved from the town of Tabda to Beles Qooqani in central Jubaland to reinforce their compatriots.
“Today, at around 11.30am, Kenyan troops came under Al-Shabaab attack, which marks the first engagement with the militia force. Al-Shabaab strength at the time of attack is estimated at 45 militants,” said Kenya Defence Forces spokesman Major Emmanuel Chirchir in a statement.
Two Kenyan soldiers were injured, one critically during the fire exchange and were airlifted to the Advanced Dressing Station in Garissa for treatment.
It was the first time the Kenyan troops were encountering resistance from the militants since they started Operation Linda Nchi 10 days ago.
“The attack was conducted as KDF was moving from Tabda to Beles Qooqani to reinforce the forward positions. Nine Al-Shabaab killed with others escaping with injuries. Two KDF troops injured, one critically. The soldiers have all been airlifted for medication,” the statement said.
Earlier, Al-Shabaab caused a stir by reportedly asking for a truce and negotiations, a report later denied by government spokesman Alfred Mutua.
A cat among pigeons
In Parliament, Foreign Affairs assistant minister Richard Onyonka appeared to have thrown a cat among pigeons when he declared that the government is ready to negotiate with the Al-Shabaab for an end to the current military operation if the group renounces violence and stops its actions there.
He claimed Al-Shabaab has frequently been in touch with the government.
“The truth is the Al-Shaabab is frequently and constantly in touch with the Kenyan government…If the Al-Shaabab would like to discuss and engage with the Kenyan government, our channels are very open,” said Mr Onyonka.
“If they don’t renounce violence, the Kenyan government shall not discuss anything with them,” he added.
His comments provoked a rare media comment from Head of Public Service Francis Muthaura who told the Nation that he “is not aware” of any negotiations between Kenya and Al-Shabaab.
“The government cannot negotiate with a terrorist group,” he said.
However, he said, the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia is sending a delegation for “bilateral talks to strengthen cooperation between the two countries”, possibly a polite way of saying the two sides have agreed to sit down and hammer out a deal on the military operation.
President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed has been sending mixed signals as to whether he supports the campaign against Al-Shabaab.
At the same time, Al-Shabaab was reported to have called on its supporters inside Kenya to stop throwing grenades and set off a major explosion.
The terror group’s fighters also crossed the border in Mandera and struck at Lafey. They are reported to have thrown a grenade that killed two Ministry of Education officials, a civic leader and their driver.
The truck was ferrying Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) examination papers.
North Eastern provincial commissioner James ole Seriani said Kenyan forces had crossed into Somalia in pursuit of the militants responsible for the morning attack.
“We will follow them to their hideout using all means at our disposal,” the PC warned.
In Somalia, Maj Chirchir said Kenyan forces attacked the town of Anole from the air at dawn on Thursday.
The attack was aimed at destroying a camp used by the Al-Shabaab for logistics and training of fighters.
To the South, Kenyan forces were preparing to capture Burgavo, a key town used by the militants for charcoal and fish business, which accounts for the bulk of their revenues.
Maj Chirchir confirmed that the Kenyan troops had also captured Busar town and were advancing towards another Al-Shabaab controlled town, Burahache.
As the Kenyan troops intensified the war against the Al-Shabaab, the government reportedly took its diplomatic offensive to the UN Security Council, stating that it had permission from the Transitional Federal Government to conduct the military operation in the war-torn country.
Bar Kulan, a public radio station operating in Somalia, said Kenya’s Ambassador to the UN, Macharia Kamau, had written to the Security Council saying that the Kenya government had decided to take pre-emptive actions “in direct consultations and liaison with the Transitional Federal Government in Mogadishu” after an escalation of terrorist acts and incursions by Al-Shabaab militants.
He attached last week’s communiqué in which Foreign Minister Moses Wetang’ula and Somalia’s Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Hussein Arab Isse agreed “to undertake coordinated pre-emptive action and the pursuit of any armed elements that continue to threaten to attack both countries,” the station reported.
The CNN had quoted an unnamed Kenya government official claiming that the militants had approached the government expressing a desire to negotiate.
But Dr Mutua, in a press briefing, disputed the reports and said that Kenya would not talk with the militants.
“Al-Shabaab has not contacted Kenya in any way,” said Dr Mutua.
He said Kenyan troops have enjoyed success since crossing the border into Somalia to pursue Al-Shabaab.
“They are running scared. I think they are busy running for their lives,” Dr Mutua said. “They don’t have time to talk.”
Defence assistant minister Joseph Nkaissery also dismissed the reports. “There is nothing like that,” he told the Nation.