, NAIROBI, Kenya, Nov 2 – Kenyan troops are preparing to launch a major offensive in 10 regions controlled by Al Shabaab militants in Somalia, including Kismayu.
Military spokesman Emmanuel Chirchir said they had reliable information that Al Shabaab militants were regrouping in the targeted regions and had already acquired arms delivered to them on Tuesday in two aircrafts in Baidoa.
In a statement issued on Tuesday evening, Chirchir said Baidoa, Baadheere, Baydhabo, Dinsur and Afgooye were among the areas they intended to hit as they head to the port of Kismayu.
Bwale, Barawe and Jilib also remain under imminent attack and he is warning residents there to be cautious and avoid contact with the terrorist group.
“In line with the Kenya Defence Forces strategy of diminishing Al Shabaab effectiveness and weapon use, the aforementioned towns will remain under imminent attack. Residents in the towns are advised to avoid contact with Al Shabaab militia,” Chirchir warned.
The military spokesman also posted the message on his personal Twitter account, where he warned residents against venturing into Al Shabaab camps or being used as conduits in carrying weapons for the militants.
“The Kenya Defence Forces urge anyone with relatives and friends in the 10 towns to advise them accordingly,” he wrote on Twitter late on Tuesday.
He said Kenya had projected its forces across Burgavo channel with the Kenya Navy providing logistic support and the Kenya Air force providing surveillance.
“All this is designed to achieve our advance to Kismayu,” he said.
And even as the Kenyan troops positioned themselves for the major offensive in target towns, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) urged all sides to respect civilian lives and said it had resumed food distribution to over 6,000 displaced people after a temporary suspension following the air raid.
“The ICRC and the Somali Red Crescent remind all parties to the conflict of their obligation to spare the civilian population,” ICRC Somalia chief Pascal Mauchle said in a statement.
“All feasible precautions must be taken to avoid, and in any event to minimise, incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians and damage to civilian objects,” he added.
This follows reports on Monday by the Medicines Sans Frontiers that Kenyan troops had conducted aerial attacks and killed three people and left 52 others wounded at an IDP camp in Jilib region South of Somalia.
The military spokesman has however denied Kenya’s involvement in the killings and instead blamed an Al Shabaab militant for “driving off a technical battle wagon mounted with a ZSU 2-3 anti aircraft gun, towards the IDP camp. The wagon was on fire and laden with explosives, it exploded while at the camp causing the reported deaths and injuries.”
Chirchir said the Kenyan military was “reaching out to the MSF personnel on the ground to ascertain this turn of events.”
Kenya’s Prime Minister Raila Odinga announced on Tuesday that any civilian deaths as a result of Kenya’s military operation in Somalia would be thoroughly investigated.
Odinga was categorical that troops sent into Somalia were only targeting Al Shabaab militants and not innocent civilians.
“If there is any death that has occurred as a result of the military operation, it will be investigated thoroughly,” he said, in an apparent reference to the Sunday jet bombings in Jilib.
“It is not our intention to kill innocent civilians,” the Prime Minister told journalists after a meeting with European Union representatives where he was accompanied by Somalia counterpart Abdiweli Mohammed Ali.
Kenya’s military chief Julius Karangi has vowed his forces will only pull out of Somalia “when the Kenyan government and the people of this country feel they are safe enough.”