, NAIROBI, Kenya Sep 28 – Kenya Defense Forces said Friday they had taken over Al Shabaab’s stronghold in Kismayu even as the Al Qaeda-linked group insisted they were incharge of the port city.
Military Spokesman Col Cyrus Oguna told Capital FM News that their forces stormed Kismayu at 2 am Friday but did not confirm any casualty figures.
“We finally entered Kismayu in a joint operation both on air and ground,” Oguna said.
An Al Shabaab commander in Kismayu Sheik Mohamed Abu Fatuma however, dismissed the reports saying “The enemy using military boats have deployed hundreds of soldiers on the coast late last night and the mujahideen fighters are engaging in heavy fighting with them now.”
Al Shabaab’s Twitter page said the Kenyan forces had tried to take over Kismayu unsuccessfully.
“#KDF cowards attempt to attack Kismayo from the sea but the courageous Mujahideen thwart their attempts,” it read.
Another tweet posted at 10 am Friday said “Kismayo remains firmly in the hands of the Mujahideen.”
Other rebels and city residents told AFP the Kenyan troops were still on the outskirts of the city that they have been targeting for days.
“They are not very close to the city because the coast where they are now is around nine kilometres (six miles) from downtown,” another commander quoted by AFP said.
Several Kismayu residents also said the Kenyan forces were still on the beach, where they came ashore from two ships escorted by helicopter gunships around five kilometres from the city centre.
“The city itself is still under control of Al Shabaab. Radio Andalus is operating and calling on people to join the jihad and overthrow the invaders,” one resident, Abdulahi Yakub, told AFP.
The key Al Shabaab-held towns of Afgoye, Baidoa and the port of Marka have all fallen in recent months.Reaching their goal has taken them longer than anticipated.
Kenyan forces have been targetting the port for days and on Tuesday fighter jets bombarded the city’s airport.