The battle to capture Kismayu started on Sunday with jets bombing several Al-Shabaab bases in a final push to wipe out the militants.
It was, however, not immediately clear whether the fighter jets that bombed Al-Shabaab’s Congo military base north of the port city early on Sunday belonged to Kenya or other allied forces helping in the fight against the militants.
Under aerial attacks
“It is confirmed that Kismayu has been under aerial attacks, but it is not our troops, it must be one of our allies,” military spokesman Emmanuel Chirchir said.
Kenyan commanders were mobilising their troops in readiness for what is expected to be a fierce battle to capture the town of Afmadow, a strategic transit point for goods illegally trafficked through Kismayu.
Kismayu is Al-Shabaab’s nerve centre for operations and its main source of funding and its capture and that of Afmadow will significantly weaken the militants.
Maj Chirchir said that Lt-Col Jeff Nyaga, who is commanding the Kenyan forces, had reinforced his troops in readiness for what is expected to be a fierce battle to capture Afmadow following reports that Al-Shabaab had dug in to defend the town.
“The commander, Lt-Col Jeff Nyaga, has made adjustment on his troops on ground to occupy a vantage point as Al-Shabaab prepares to fight on this front. Al-Shabaab (is) believed to be heavily regrouping in Bula Haji and moving towards Afmadow,” Maj Chirchir said in a statement.
He reported that the rains had subsided, creating good conditions for Kenyan troops to manoeuvre while the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) fighters were already positioned at Hayo ready to join the Kenyan troops in the push to capture Afmadow.
A French naval gunship patrolling Somali waters also bombarded the town of Kuday, south of Kismayu, as the battle to decimate the militants gained momentum.
It was not immediately clear how many militants could have been killed or wounded during the attack in Kuday with the French Navy promising to give damage assessment as soon as possible.
The Kenyan troops and their allies from TFG have already occupied the town of Oddo, which they captured on Friday and were said to be advancing towards Burgavo town in their march to Afmadow and Kismayu.
Nearer to the Indian Ocean coast, Kenya is advancing to Kismayu in its effort to isolate the rebel fighters.
On Saturday, the military said it had moved beyond Oddo and had launched an air strike on Munarani, hitting an Al-Shabaab command centre.
Foreign media reports quoted residents saying convoys of armoured vehicles and trucks carrying weaponry, food supplies and tents were seen leaving four military camps in Isiolo on Friday and heading towards the border.
Maj Chirchir said that the overall campaign strategy was to reduce Al-Shabaab’s effectiveness and to restore TFG authority to achieve enduring peace in Somalia.
Meanwhile, the US embassy in Nairobi claimed it had received credible information of an imminent terrorist attack in Kenya as a result of the military offensive against the militants.
“This is to inform US citizens residing in or visiting Kenya that the US Embassy in Kenya has received credible information of an imminent threat of terrorist attacks directed at prominent Kenyan facilities and areas where foreigners are known to congregate, such as malls and night clubs,” a statement from the embassy warned.
Limit official travel
The statement said that the embassy had taken measures to limit official US government travel to Kenya and asked Americans intending to visit the country to postpone such arrangements.
The militants have vowed to bring the “flames of war” into Kenya if Nairobi refuses to withdraw its troops.
A radio station broadcasting inside Somalia last week reported that the militants had beheaded two men on Friday for allegedly spying for advancing Kenyan and TFG troops in parts of Afmadow.
Radio Bar-Kulan quoted Al-Shabaab’s deputy leader in the area Shueib Ali Adan saying the two were spying for Kenyan and Somali troops who are advancing to the area to flush out the militants.
As the fighting escalated, Doctors Without Borders was forced to suspend its measles vaccination campaign in the area. The campaign had been scheduled to last three weeks and to reach 35,000 children.