Kenyan troops invaded al-Shabaab’s last stronghold in Somalia, coming ashore in a predawn assault yesterday. Other African Union forces were traveling overland to link up with the Kenyan forces in the port city of Kismayo.
Colonel Cyrus Oguna, the Kenyan military’s top spokesman, said the surprise attack met minimal resistance, but al-Shabaab denied that the city had fallen and said fighting was taking place. Oguna said that al-Shabaab has incurred “heavy losses,” but that Kenyan forces have not yet had any injuries or deaths.
Residents in Kismayo said that Kenyan troops had taken control of the port, but not the whole city.
An al-Shabaab spokesman said on Twitter that the militants still control Kismayo.
“The enemy forces have launched a desperate attack on Kismayo this morning and the mujahedeen forces are resisting their attacks,” Sheikh Abdiaziz Abu-Musab said over the militants’ radio station in Kismayo.
Oguna said the assault is part of a four-prong attack involving Kenyan forces currently in villages outside Kismayo. The amphibious assault landed between 10:30pm on Thursday and 2am yesterday, he said.
More than 10,000 residents fled Kismayo in the past several weeks. Resident Faduma Abdulle said yesterday that she is now leaving too. She said al-Shabaab announced false propaganda on its radio station to trick residents into moving toward the invading troops.
“They told residents through their radio to loot a Kenyan ship that washed up on the coast, but instead the residents who rushed there were attacked by helicopters,” she said. “Some of them have died but I don’t know how many. The situation is tense and many are fleeing. It’s a dangerous situation.”
Along with forces from Uganda, Burundi and Djibouti, Kenyan troops have been battling the group, in an African Union peacekeeping force mandated with wiping out the rebels from their strongholds.
Al-Shabaab, which was driven out of the capital Mogadishu last year in August and is fighting African Union forces in other parts of the country, said there was heavy fighting between the two sides.
Kenya sent its troops into Somalia in October last year after the rebels were blamed for a series of raids on Kenyan soil.