, NAIROBI, Kenya, Sept 1 – Dozens of Somalia’s Al-Qaeda-linked Al Shabaab militants were killed on Saturday as the Africa Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) forces started bombarding their Kismayu stronghold.
The AMISOM also suffered casualties including two Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) soldiers.
The Kenyan army, which went into Somalia last October with the aim of neutralising Shabaab militants blamed for terrorist acts in Kenya, has been pondering an assault on Kismayo for months.
The Al Shabaab militants on Saturday put on show the bodies of four “enemy” soldiers killed in combat in their stronghold of Kismayo, in southern Somalia, witnesses told AFP.
“We saw the bodies of four men in uniform put on show in Kismayo by the Shabaab,” a local man in the port town, Hassan Abdi Mohamud, told AFP by telephone.
“Two of the dead were Somalis fighting for the transition federal government and the other two were Kenyan soldiers,” he claimed.
The bodies had been brought back from Afmadow, some 120 kilometres (90 miles) from Kismayo, where the Shabaab launched an offensive on Friday, after being forced out of the town last May by the advance of the Kenyan army.
Witness Mohamed Abdi Mohadmu said, “The bodies were brought to Kismayo during the night and inhabitants were called out to come and see them.”
Kenya’s Chief of Defence Forces Julius Karangi said in May that AMISOM troops were working out a plan to capture their key target of Kismayu by August this year.
Karangi said the port of Kismayu could have been captured a long time ago, were it not for other forces under AMISOM from other countries who have taken long to take their positions.
“We hear all manner of voices… that when is KDF going to capture Kismayu and we agreed that it is going to be captured by all the troops who are participating in AMISOM, including KDF,” he said.
“So the issue of Kismayu today, Kismayu tomorrow is neither here nor there but it is going to come. It was resolved early this year that Kismayu is going to be an AMISOM agenda,” the General said, and urged for patience from critics who feel the troops are taking too long to hit the target.
The port in southern Somalia is the last major bastion of the Shabaab, who have been forced out of their other main strongholds in the south and centre of the country by Kenyan, Ethiopian and African Union soldiers backed by Somalia’s weak pro-government armed forces.
Somalia has been divided into three sectors. Sector one, which includes Middle Shebelle, Lower Shebelle, and Banadir (with the capital of Mogadishu), is under Uganda.
Sector two is under Kenya Defence Forces and it comprises Middle and Lower Jubba. The capital of this region is Kismayu, which is the headquarters of Al-Shabaab.