The Nation (Nairobi)

17 November 2011

Kenya: Nation's Army in New Battles As Advance Resumes

Kenyan troops on Thursday took up positions outside a key Al-Shabaab stronghold as they prepared to launch a fresh offensive to capture Kismayu.

After weeks of relative inactivity, residents reported that troops in the central sector of the operation had reached the edge of Afmadow Town.

If the town is taken, the soldiers will then push south towards Kismayu and link up with others approaching from Bur Gabo in the south.

Military spokesman, Major Emmanuel Chirchir, said the troops had encountered pockets of resistance from the militants as they positioned themselves outside Afmadow.

Some resistance

"We have now gone beyond Busar where we received some resistance from Al-Shabaab and are heading to Afmadow.

"As we speak, our men are at a place called Hayo, a short distance of about seven kilometres from Afmadow," Major Chirchir said.

Kenyan troops had engaged in a fierce gunfight at Busar on Wednesday, he said.

"Our troops and the TFG fighters attacked Al-Shabaab bases in Busar yesterday. We killed 12 of them and did not suffer any casualties," he said.

Afmadow's capture will open the way for a march on Kismayu port, a key objective of the Kenyan operation. (READ: Shabaab parade in stronghold)

The militants generate millions of shillings every year from the port, which they use to sustain their bloody campaign in the Horn of Africa.

Kenyan troops in the southern sector were on Thursday believed to have taken control of Kolbio, a town a few kilometres inside Somalia along one of Al-Shaabab's transport corridors.

Major Seif S. Rashid, the second in charge at this sector, told Nation there had been "major developments" in the area, where the troops have been concentrated over the past three days.

"We believe the trading centre has been taken by Kenyan forces. We are yet to get proper details on that so it would have to be confirmed after some time," said Major Rashid.The capture of Kolbio will set the pace for movements of the troops towards Baddada, a town about 60km away and is understood to have been the destination for Al-Shaabab fleeing Ras Kamboni and Bur Gabo.

Reports quoting locals in Lower Juba and Gedo regions in Southern Somalia indicated that Kenyans troops had been seen moving from Dobley and Tabto towns towards Afmadow.

"Kenyan forces in armoured vehicles occupied new positions outside the town of Qooqani," said a resident who refused to be identified for security reasons. "They kept on engaging in military manoeuvres," he added.

An aid worker in Afmadow, who spoke to Nation, said the troops were at Hayo.

No tension

"Al-Shabaab are all over this place. There is no tension in the town and people are going about their businesses peacefully.

"I think the heavy rains have really curtailed any movement at the moment," said the aid worker who sought anonymity for security reasons.

Somali media quoted residents saying the Kenyans arrested an unidentified number of youngsters in Beles Qooqani and surrounding areas.

An Al-Shabaab official in Busar claimed his militants had killed eight soldiers from the Kenya Defence Forces and the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and captured three others.

This was immediately denied by Major Chirchir, who reconfirmed 12 militants had been killed.

On Wednesday night, a position held by Ras Kamboni Brigade, a group allied to the TFG at Kulbio near Dobley, was also attacked by Al-Shabaab fighters.

Meanwhile, the whereabouts of Al-Shabaab's spiritual leader Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys remained unknown four days after airstrikes hit a building in Afgoye where the militants' commanders were holding a meeting.

Amisom military spokesman Lt Col Paddy Ankunda said it was not clear whether Sheikh Aweys had been killed or injured in the attack.

"We do not know the condition of Sheikh Dahir Aweys who is said to have been seriously injured during the Sunday attacks; the other two, Godane and the spokesman Mohamud Rage have spoken, but Aweys has not," said Lt Col Ankunda.

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