The Kenya and Somali governments on Tuesday agreed on a joint strategy to wipe out the al Shabaab militants.
As Kenyan troops moved deeper into Somalia, taking ground previously held by the militant group, a meeting in Mogadishu attended by Kenyan Foreign minister Moses Wetang’ula, Defence minister Yusuf Haji and Somalia President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed and Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed, discussed the joint military offensive against the insurgents.
But even as the meeting took place, the Somali capital was rocked by a huge car bomb explosion outside the former Foreign Affairs building.
At the battle front, the military declared that it will intensify its operations targeting al Shabaab strongholds.
“Our forces will be concentrating on operations in Afmadow region today,” said Kenya army spokesman Major Emmanuel Chirchir.
Kenyan troops have pushed at least 120 kilometres into Somalia to reach Afmadow region, guided by pro-government Somali forces, backed by heavy aerial bombardments, but slowed down by heavy rains pounding the region.
The diplomatic foray into Mogadishu came as President Kibaki chaired a Cabinet meeting that endorsed the military offensive, which it termed an “important duty of securing the Kenyan nation.”
Mr Haji told the media after the closed-door meeting in Mogadishu that the two sides had discussed closer co-operation on security matters to wipe out al Shabaab.
“Continuous exchange of information on security matters was considered a priority,” said Mr Haji.
There was a scare after a car bomb exploded in Mogadishu near the meeting between the Kenyan delegation and the Somalia leaders.
The explosion is said to have claimed four lives including the driver of a truck suspected to have been carrying the explosives.
In Nairobi, a dispatch from the Presidential Press Service (PPS) said the Cabinet had fully backed the military engagement in Somalia while sending messages of condolence to the families of five soldiers who died in a helicopter crash at the start of the mission.
“The Cabinet that met today at State House, Nairobi, also supported and commended the actions taken by members of the Kenya Defense Forces and other security forces in the offensive against the al Shabaab,” the statement read.
“The Cabinet assured members of the country’s security forces that the government and entire country were in support of their mission and conveyed their message of encouragement as they undertook the important duty of securing the Kenyan nation,” it added.
Meanwhile, a senior al Shabaab leader, Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, warned that Kenya would face the consequences of moving troops into Somalia. (READ: Al Shabaab warns Kenyan soldiers)
“Kenya has joined the list of occupiers of another country’s land, and history will tell what happens to their aggression,” Sheikh Aweys, a key figure in Somali Islamism, told AFP by telephone from Somalia.
At the same time, security was beefed up at Parliament buildings after senior police officers held consultations with National Assembly Clerk Patrick Gichohi on Monday evening.
And on Tuesday, the officers were seen making rounds at Parliament buildings to ensure the new measures had been implemented.
Police manning Parliament’s two entrances searched all the vehicles coming in, including those of the National Assembly staff.
As the Kenyan troops intensified attacks on al Shabaab bases in parts of Somalia bordering Kenya, three western nations called on their citizens not to visit northern parts of the country for fear of retaliatory attacks from the militants.
Statements posted on the websites of the US, British and Australian missions in Nairobi warned their citizens against travel to towns bordering the Kenya-Somalia border citing security concerns.