NAIROBI, Kenya, Oct 4 – The Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) have announced they have taken full control of vital installations in Kismayu – including the former State House and two airports.
A week after raiding the port city previously controlled by Al Shabaab militants, KDF said its soldiers, who are part of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) are also now in charge of the police station and a factory known as Walsheda.
“AMISOM forces within Sector II, KDF and the Somali National Army are firmly in control of the port city of Kismayu,” Military Spokesman Cyrus Oguna said in a statement.
The Kenyan military was due to embark on an exercise of clearing buildings initially used by the militants who have been governing the region under strict Sharia laws.
The KDF announced on Thursday that movement in and out of the town was being monitored at control points erected outside the town.
“Domination of the port City by AMISOM troops is in progress. Several businesses have opened and the locals’ daily routine is slowly returning,” the military said.
Oguna however admits that maintaining security at the port city remains a major challenge because there could be “Al Shabaab remnants hiding with the local populace.”
No major security incidents have been reported in the port city since KDF took control other than a blast experienced on Tuesday with no casualties.
“AMISOM forces have embarked on a confidence building mission with the locals by providing a secure environment for them to curve a leadership structure that will support AMISOM efforts to ensure the peace process is sustainable in the long term,” KDF said.
Wary shopkeepers, who had shut down business since the Al Shabaab abandoned the city on Saturday, reopened for the first time on Wednesday, as patrols by Somali and AU forces moved through the town.
The hardline Al Shabaab claimed responsibility for a heavy blast on Tuesday, while AU forces detonated several homemade bombs discovered as they seized control of the town’s airport and harbour.
Attackers also hurled a grenade into a tea shop late on Tuesday, wounding seven people, according to residents.
Long lines of Kenyan troops – part of the AU mission – marched in force into the southern port city on Tuesday, alongside a mix of Somali militia forces crammed into pickup trucks mounted with machine guns.
Somali forces patrolling Kismayu also include the Ras Kamboni militia, commanded by former warlord Ahmed Madobe, who switched from supporting the Al Shabaab to fighting alongside the AU.
“Somali soldiers, mostly fighters from Ras Kamboni, are patrolling the streets, and have set up checkpoints stopping vehicles and are making security checks,” said Ahmadey Abdulahi, a resident.
Residents in Kismayu – relatively peaceful under four years of authoritarian rule by the Shabaab – are reportedly fearful of violence between rival Somali clans in potential power struggles for control of the port.
While the Ras Kamboni are largely drawn from the Ogaden clan, powerful forces from the Marehan as well as the Majertan clan are also influential in the region.
The Shabaab used Kismayu as an export hub for the illegal charcoal trade. Its loss is seen as a major blow to the fighters, and marks the latest in a string of defeats since they abandoned fixed positions in the capital Mogadishu last year.
The hardline insurgents still control the town of Jowhar, some 500 kilometres northeast of Kismayu, and one small port town, Barawe, lying 230 kilometres up the coast from Kismayu.