, NAIROBI, Kenya Oct 9 – “Ukiona simba amenyeshewa mvua, usifikiri ni paka (If you see a lion that’s been soaked in rain, do not mistake it for a cat) – these are the words Kenya’s military chief General Julius Karangi chose to use on Tuesday to describe his gallant soldiers fighting in Somalia.
“Everyone who thought we are just an occupational force has seen for themselves,” Karangi said, admitting: “We had been taken for granted for long.”
The Kenyan soldiers have been praised both locally and internationally – but the most touching praise came from school children who sent them handwritten poems penned on July 30 and delivered to the KDF headquarters on Tuesday.
“When David went to face Goliath, he went unarmed. He was only a small boy who came out victorious,” Cecilia of Our Lady of Mercy Secondary School said in one of the poems to be delivered to the soldiers who are still celebrating the capture of Kismayu, a stronghold of the militant group which had wrecked havoc in Kenya before the soldiers drove them away.
Another letter written by Joy prayed for the soldiers’ safety saying “Nevertheless, we hope you all come back safe and sound and unharmed.”
At least 3,000 of the militants have been killed since the security operation targeting them started a year ago – many of them shot in the battlefield where they sought to protect their territories before KDF overpowered their rag tag command.
“Today we occupy no less than 200,000 sq kilometres previously controlled by those bad fellows,” General Karangi boasted, in his first public address since his forces captured Kismayu.
He said KDF was now “in full control of various key regions where the Al Shabaab used to transact up to $100,000 daily in illegal fees. This are areas like Afmadow.”
“We have restored business in these areas,” General Karangi said and urged the Somali government to consolidate power to be able to take over control of their country.
He is confident the AMISOM mandate which comes to an end at the end of October will be extended to enable them complete their task.
Defence Minister Yusuf Haji said the Kenyan soldiers “will not stay in Somalia an extra day, once their mission is completed.”
African Union troops alongside Somali forces continue to seize more towns in Somalia, the latest being the formerly Islamist-held town of Wanla Weyn which fell on Sunday, the latest loss for the Al-Qaeda linked Shabaab fighters.
Its capture – reportedly without a fight – is a key step towards opening up the main highway linking the capital Mogadishu to Baidoa, a major town wrested from the Shabaab by Ethiopian troops in February.
The AU mission in Somalia which also seized the Balli Doogle airstrip on Sunday, has now advanced over 90 kilometres (55 miles) northwest from Mogadishu since launching an offensive outside the city in May.
“Somali government forces with the support of AMISOM troops have secured the strategic town of Wanla Weyn on the Afgoye-to-Baidoa corridor,” said Andrew Gutti, commander of the 17,000-strong AMISOM force.
Wanla Weyn lies roughly a third of the way to Baidoa from Mogadishu, with the remaining 160 kilometres (100 miles) still controlled by the Shabaab.
“The capture of this town denies Al Shabaab another source of illegal income after a string of defeats,” Gutti added in a statement.
“It will also facilitate the provision of much-needed humanitarian assistance to the local population.”
Kenyan troops – who invaded Somalia a year ago before later integrating into AMISOM – are also pushing up from the south, having last week seized the Shabaab bastion and major port of Kismayu.
The hard-line insurgents still control the town of Jowhar, some 80 kilometres northeast of Mogadishu, and the small port town of Barawe, lying some 180 kilometres down the coast from the capital.