African Union troops in Somalia are edging closer to seizing Kismayu after the capture of Marka, the third largest port in southern Somalia.
The forces, which are operating under the umbrella of the Africa Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom), pushed the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Al-Shabaab out of the town, which has been one of militants’ key havens.
According to military sources, the dawn operation by Ugandan and Burundian forces which also included the Somali National Army met little resistance as they advanced to the nearby Shalamboot, where they erected a defence pillar.
“The capture of Marka is critical for Amisom’s future operations to liberate the city of Kismayu, the extremists’ largest source of illicit revenue,” said the military in a statement to the media.
Amisom spokesman Ali Aden Hamoud confirmed the capture, saying the troops seized towns and villages without casualties.
After the Kenya Defence Forces captured various towns in southern Somalia which culminated in the liberation of Afmadow town in June and the defeat of Al-Shabaab from the Afgoye corridor by the Somali National Army, Ugandan and Burundian forces, many Al-Shabaab commanders fled to Marka and other southern towns like Jillip and Buale.
Marka has been an exit point for international fighters and their families escaping through the Indian Ocean waters as they flee from the ongoing crushing of Al-Shabaab. (READ: Shabaab parade in stronghold)
The town has been under the control of the Al-Shabaab militants since 2008 when it captured it from the Islamic Union Courts fighters.
Amisom Force Commander Lt-Gen Andrew Gutti said the capture of Marka would enhance security across Somalia by denying the terrorists a base from which to launch attacks.
“Amisom is committed to supporting the peace process in Somalia and this operation will not only bring relief to the population in Marka, but will also help in the liberation of Kismayu,” he said.
Somalia has been divided into three sectors. Sector one, which includes Middle Shebelle, Lower Shebelle, and Banadir (with the capital of Mogadishu), is under Uganda.
Sector two is under Kenya Defence Forces and it comprises Middle and Lower Jubba. The capital of this region is Kismayu, which is the headquarters of Al-Shabaab.