Kenya Defense Forces yesterday battled their way into Somali port city of Kismayu, the last stronghold of the al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab militant group.
The pre-dawn attack was described by KDF as "Operation Sledge Hammer" was, according to Kenyan soldiers on the frontline, executed with precision at 2am a mid fierce fire from Al-Shabab fighters. President Kibaki commended the Kenyan soldiers describing the capture as a game changer and a defining moment!
He described them as gallant heroes who contributed to the turning point in the war against the "forces of terrorism and those opposed to the peace and stability of the people of Somalia."
"This is a game changer for the people of Somalia, it is a defining moment. A people long used to being subject of forces of terrorism that sought to engage in a siege mentality of extremism now have a good chance of restoring peace in their country, and engaging in productive economic and social opportunities," said the President.
The Operation Sledge Hammer is the first amphibious operation by an African force, according to multiple Military sources. Such operations are normally complicated, delicate and highly dangerous to execute.
Military Spokesman Col Cyrus Oguna said the town was liberated at 2 am with jets and ground forces. "We have taken control of the town. Our forces are already in Kismayu," Oguna said.
The amphibious special forces team that attacked Kismayu from the sea was flagged off by the Chief of Defence Forces General Julius Karangi on Thursday night and arrived in the port city in the wee hours of the morning to support the army which was approaching from Jana Cabdalla.
Four Kenyan Frigates stealthily approached Kismayu and offloaded hundred special forces who landed on the beaches aboard 11M Naval Special Warfare Rigid Inflatable Boats. The shelling of Al-Shabaab's main armory and warehouse incapacitated the insurgents.
The aerial and naval attacks on Wednesday and Thursday on al Shabaab positions in Kismayu softened the targets and made it easy for the grounds troops to march in to Kismayu. It is reported that early on Thursday, several commanders of the Al-Shabaab were killed forcing other key militia leaders to flee the city.
Several Al Shabaab militants were killed in the attack but the exact casualty figures are yet to be released. There w\ere no Kenyan cousalities.
Kenyan soldiers on the front-line said they had not slept for three days as they planned the attack Somali's second largest city which has been in the hands of the militants for years now.
"It was meticulously planned and executed with utmost effectiveness. We entered the city from different directions and the navy plus air-force helped the ground force a great deal," said a KDF soldier on the front-line.
The fall of Kismayu would spell an end to the Shabab's ability to control large tracts of territory and the beginning of an underground, and possibly even more dangerous, guerrilla phase.
Kenya Defence Forces, Somalia National Army and their Ras Kamboni militia counterparts were by yesterday evening painstakingly still scouring captured areas of Kismayu for Improvised Explosive Devices as they marched in to liberate the rest of Kisamayu.
Explosive experts were busy searching for mines and bobby traps in the formerly Al Shabaab controlled areas ports city after AMISOM troops marched in with little resistance.
Al Shabaab militants attempted in vain to blow up several Armoured Personnel Carriers(APCs) in Jana Cabdalla yesterday morning.
KDF troops were yesterday hunting down the large number of Al Shabaab fighters who are believed to have abandoned their weapons and melted into the civilian unarmed population.
For the past several weeks, Kenyan fighter jets and naval ships have been pounding Kismayu, steadily taking out Shabab positions and preparing the ground for a final assault. Al Shabab-maintained Twitter account, however, said Shabab fighters are still in Kismayu.
"KDF cowards attempt to attack Kismayu from the sea but the courageous mujahedeen thwart their attempts," said a message late Friday morning. "Kismayu remains firmly in the hands of the mujahedeen, stay tuned for updates."
Yesterday Residents reported fighting near the beach earlier on Friday, about 4 km (2.5 miles) outside the city, as military helicopters hovered overhead.
Locals said businesses were closed and many streets were deserted. Some masked men looked on from windows and balconies. "We can hear deafening shells and the town looks dead. We don't know where to go, the jets are now flying over," said Rukia Jelle, who was watching the scene outside her home with her five children.
Al Shabaab, which was driven out of the capital Mogadishu last August and is fighting African Union forces in other parts of the country, said it would not give up Kismayu easily.
"Going into Kismayu is not a piece of cake. We are still fighting them on the beach where they landed," Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab, al Shabaab's spokesman for military operations, told Reuters on Friday. "For us, this is just the beginning, our troops are spread everywhere."
Kenya sent its troops into Somalia last October after the rebels were blamed for a series of raids on Kenyan soil targeting its security forces as well as Western tourists.
The Kenyan military had been vowing for nearly a year to capture Kismayu but troops had been bogged down for several months in small villages near Kismayu, leading many to wonder if the force would ever reach it. On Friday, Major Chirchir sent out another triumphant Twitter message: "We confirm, we not ceremonial soldiers."