, NAIROBI, Kenya, Oct 27 – Kenyan troops killed nine Al Shabaab insurgents in Somalia during a fierce gun battle that left two soldiers seriously wounded on Thursday.
Military Spokesman Major Emmanuel Chirchir said the two soldiers were airlifted to Nairobi for treatment but their colleagues were still engaged in a gun battle with the Somali insurgents.
“Kenyan troops came under Al Shabaab attack which marks the first engagement with the militia force,” Major Chirchir said adding “Al Shabaab strength at the time of attack is estimated at 45 militants.
He said the attack occurred as the Kenyan troops were advancing from Tabda region to Beles Qooqani to reinforce the forward positions.
“Nine Al Shabaab fighters have been killed with others escaping with injuries. Two Kenyan troops have been injured, one critically,” Major Chirchir said in a statement late on Thursday.
The soldiers were airlifted to the Forces Memorial Hospital for treatment.
The military spokesman said the Kenyan troops had “now taken control of Busar region.”
They were poised to take control of Bulahache, deep inside Somalia but Major Chirchir said heavy rains pounding the area had hampered their operations.
“All the three sectors continue to experience heavy rains impeding military movement. However clear skies during the day allow for air action,” he added.
Government Spokesman Dr Alfred Mutua said on Thursday the country’s troops would leave Somalia once they achieve their objective of driving Al Shabaab militants hundreds of kilometres off the common border.
“The Kenyan government’s strategy is to destroy Al-Shabaab’s network within the shortest time possible,” Mutua said, warning the militants posed a “clear and present danger” to the region.
“Kenya has no plans or intentions to stay in Somalia an hour beyond necessary,” Mutua told reporters, but set no timeframe for the withdrawal.
Kenya launched its assault after attacks on its territory and the abduction of several foreigners it blames on Shabaab extremists, claims the rebels deny.
Troops and tanks have pushed some 100 kilometres (60 miles) into Shabaab-controlled southern Somalia, with fighting raging.
On Thursday, four people died when gunmen fired a rocket-propelled grenade at a vehicle carrying government officials in El Wak region close to the Kenya-Somali border.
The North Eastern Provincial Commissioner Joseph Ole Serian said they suspected the Shabaab were responsible.
“We suspect they are Al-Shabaab because they escaped towards Somalia after the incident,” Sereni said.
The attack came three days after two grenade blasts in Nairobi which killed one person and wounded dozens of others, to which a Kenyan man has pleaded guilty of involvement.
Kenyan police chief Mathew Iteere said that Kenyan youths had joined Shabaab forces, and called for vigilance to prevent possible attacks.
“We have credible information there is quite a number of young people who have crossed into Somalia to fight for Al Shabaab,” Iteere said, noting that they came from several of Kenya’s ethnic groups, not just ethnic Somalis.
“We are talking about the bad elements from any of the communities.”
Kenyan troops have been bogged down by heavy rains and made slow progress towards the strategic Shabaab-held port of Kismayu.
Mutua said the assault had been planned for months in advance, adding the operation had been “going on for quite some time.”
Kenya’s assault prompted an angry response from Somali President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, who on Monday warned he would “not allow forces entering its soil without prior agreement.”
Sharif’s comments perhaps echo worries of some Somalis who oppose the Shabaab, but who have expressed concern that Kenya’s attack on the rebels may also include an attempt to carve out a buffer zone of control in the south.
However, Somali Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali on Thursday said “Kenyan forces are inside Somali territory because of our official consent… the two countries have a bilateral agreement to fight Al-Shabaab.”
Mutua, in an apparent bid to ease tensions, stressed that Kenya would operate only with agreement of the African Union, the regional Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and the Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG).
“Once our objective is met as per the framework of AU and IGAD, Kenyan troops will withdraw and leave the security operations to AU mission troops and TFG troops,” Mutua said.
He also dismissed reports that Western nations were supporting Kenyan operations in the war-torn nation.
“We are in contact with the United States, France, Britain and all our partners and we discuss matters with them,” Mutua said.
“But they are not involved at all in the current operations going on inside Somalia.”