Al-Shabaab militants have a tough fight on their hands as regional armies led by the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) prepare to surround their remaining strongholds and flush them out. (Read: Al-Qaeda camp hit by Kenya jets and ships)
Ethiopian troops crossed into Somalia at the weekend to back the ongoing military operation spearheaded by KDF and the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) army to wipe out the terror outfit blamed for attacks in the region.
TFG welcomed Ethiopian forces, but raised sovereignty concerns.
“We welcome Ethiopian troops — if they have entered Somalia — and any other country that contributes forces to fight against the Al-Shabaab militants, as long as they do not violate our sovereignty,” Mr Hussein Arab Isse said.
Media reports quoted local elders saying they had seen several convoys of Ethiopian troops moving into Somalia’s central Galgudud and Hiran regions, while witnesses said lines of trucks also crossed to the war-torn nation via Kenya into the far south.
“We need help from the international community in the fight against the Al-Qaeda-linked militants,” Isse told reporters after returning from meetings in Ethiopia on Sunday.
But despite residents confirming independently that the Ethiopian forces had joined the war against Al-Shabaab, Addis Ababa maintained it had not sent troops to the war-torn nation.
“Ethiopia has not entered Somalia... In the past, people might have seen light reconnaissance teams and confused them with troop deployments,” Ethiopian government spokesman Bereket Simon was quoted as saying.
He also dismissed threats by the militants on Sunday that Al-Shabaab would “break the necks” of Ethiopian troops.
The decision on whether Ethiopia should send troops will be made on Friday at an Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (Igad) Heads of State meeting in Addis Ababa.
“We are waiting for what Igad decides and without that decision, Ethiopia is not going to act unilaterally,” Mr Bereket said.
Kenya military spokesman Major Emmanuel Chirchir also dismissed reports by the militants that they had attacked two vessels belonging to the Kenya Navy on Sunday.
The militants told the press in Mogadishu that the attack was carried out using four speedboats and inflicted heavy damage on the two vessels.
“That is typical Al-Shabaab propaganda, the purported attack never took place,” Major Chirchir said.
Residents of Kudha’ area in Lower Juba region separately informed the media in Mogadishu that they heard the sound of heavy fire and could see tracer lights in the night’s darkness during a battle between the Kenyan sailors and Al-Shabaab attackers that lasted about 20 minutes at the waters of Madawa Island.
Area residents claimed one of the Navy vessels caught fire, but it was quickly put out by the Kenyan troops.
Endanger ordinary people
ASomalia MP Muse Nur Amin warned that any attempt by Al-Shabaab to attack the Kenya Navy would only endanger ordinary Somalis.
“Kenya is likely to retaliate against attacks,” Mr Amin said. “The consequence could be very serious for the coastal dwellers,” he added.
Al-Shabaab leaders may have established links with pirates, he said.
“The pirates may be helping the Islamist movement by providing the necessary speedboats and other stuff for assaults,” he said.
There were also reports that trucks belonging to the TFG had been attacked by Al-Shabaab militants on Sunday as they went to escort vehicles carrying supplies to Kenyan troops in Dobley.
The vehicles had left Belles Qooqani en-route to Dobley when the convoy was ambushed and several soldiers injured.
Meanwhile, the Human Rights Watch has protested to the Kenya government about alleged detention and ill-treatment of civilians in Somalia and Kenya by the Kenyan troops.
HRW director of Africa Division Daniel Bekele wrote to Defence minister Yusuf Haji listing instances when he claimed Kenyan troops attacked civilians.
He listed alleged incidents in Jilib, Southern Somalia and Garissa and Kiunga areas in Kenya.
“A witness told Human Rights Watch that on November 11, military personnel detained individuals solely on the basis of their Somali appearance. The witness saw military personnel picking up suspects at pubs around Garissa, including DRC Pub and Locus; he later drove to Town Club and saw military personnel detaining additional suspects there, as well as pulling drivers out of taxis,” the letter read.
“On the night of November 3 the Kenyan Navy intercepted a fishing boat near Kiunga, on the Kenyan coast near the Somalia border,” the report added.
“The Navy instructed the fishing boat to remain anchored for the night and promised to escort it to Ngomeni the next morning. At approximately 1am on November 4, the Navy ship approached and fired on the fishing boat, which remained anchored off the shore of Kiunga. According to MHRF, four civilians were killed, all of them elderly Kenyans,” it went on.
Meanwhile, TFG Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed has welcomed Britain’s plan to host an international conference next year to tackle instability in Somalia and protecting ships from pirates in the Gulf of Aden.
“This is the right time to help Somalia in order to consolidate security gains in the capital city and other parts of the country,” the PM noted in a statement.