A door-to-door operation has been launched to flush out Al-Shabaab remnants in towns and centres captured by the Kenyan Defence Forces and their Somali Transitional Federal Government allies.
Kenya military spokesman Major Emmanuel Chirchir said that the allied troops were conducting patrols and searching houses in several towns.
“The focus is to ensure that these towns and villages are free of Al-Shabaab,” Maj Chirchir told the Nation. (READ: Al-Shabaab on the run in south zone)
Looking for weapons
The door-to-door search started on Tuesday and will cover towns such as Ras Kamboni, Mnarani, Burgavo, Tabda, Beles Qooqani, Dhobley, Busar and Jilib, which are now under the control of the Kenyan troops and the Somali army.
“The exercise is being run simultaneously in the Northern, Central and Southern sectors to ensure that no Al-Shabaab militants are hiding in the towns under our control.
“We are also looking for any weapons that could be hidden in the towns and villages as well as trying to obtain information from locals on the possible hideouts for the Al-Shabaab,” Major Chirchir said.
The Kenya Navy, meanwhile, announced that its operations on the Indian Ocean had so far eliminated piracy incidents around the Somalia coast close to Kenya.
Nation Media Group has news teams embedded with the Kenyan military at sea and on land though this report contains material gathered in Nairobi.
Besides flushing out the militants and impounding hidden weapons, the Kenyan troops want to open up the towns for international humanitarian organisations to deliver supplies, Maj Chirchir said in Nairobi.
“Today, the KDF forces at the battlefront were involved in patrols and pacification in the liberated areas and Al-Shabaab pockets,” said Major Chirchir.
“This pacification patrols reinforce the operation objectives and facilitate access by international aid organisations in the liberated areas,” he added.
The Kenyan troops are on the third week of Operation Linda Nchi in Somalia aimed against the extremist militia blamed for insecurity across the Horn of Africa.
The ultimate plan is to capture the two Al Shabaab strongholds of Afmadow and Kismayu and allow TFG to take control.
It was not immediately clear whether the troops had captured any Al-Shabaab fighters in the door-to-door operation. Maj Chirchir however said the exercise would be extended to surrounding villages.
The Kenya Navy has in the meantime been conducting patrols in the Indian Ocean to keep out the militants and have so far sunk two enemy boats, killing over ten members of the Al-Shabaab in the process, according to the military. (READ: Kenya Navy sinks boat believed to be carrying rebels)
However there have been protests that one of the boats reported sunk was actually crewed by local fishermen.
In southern Somalia, the leader of the Ras Kamboni Brigade, fighting alongside TFG forces and the Kenyan military, said the areas freed from Al-Shaabab control urgently require food aid and medicine.
Mr Ahmed Mohammed Islan told the Nation the conditions are now safe for international aid agencies.
Mr Islan, also known Madoobe, said the entry of the Kenya Defence Forces on the scene led to the routing of the Al Shaabab, which had taken over the strategic town by the sea.
“The people welcomed us here but help is needed. The aid agencies kept away because of the Al Shaabab but it is now safe for them to come back,” said Mr Islan.
He said the residents of Ras Kamboni, whose mainstay is deep sea fishing, have for long been deprived of the means through which they earned a living.
The fishermen at Ras Kamboni said they had to pay a protection fee to the militia group in the form of cash from their sales or give up a portion of the catch.
They have now been banned from fishing at night or crossing the border into Kenya, where they supplied restaurants and resorts on the islands at the coast. Kenyan authorities said their boats were at times used to smuggle weapons and ammunition.
It is also suspected that the easy access they had to the Kenyan coast and the islands along it made it easy for the suspected Al-Shaabab militia to kidnap Judith Tebbut and Marie Dedeu in September and October respectively.
The free movement in the sea also made it easy for pirates to launch attacks on merchant ships off the long Somalia coastline, often straying into Kenya’s territorial waters.