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Kenyan jets pound Al Shabaab positions in Somalia

NAIROBI, Oct 19 – Kenyan jets struck Al Shabaab positions in Somalia Wednesday in a bid to rid the border area of Islamist rebels they blame for a spate of abductions, including that of a French woman who died in captivity.
Kenyan ground troops guided by pro-government Somali forces prepared for a fresh assault against the insurgents with the blessing of the Western-backed government in Mogadishu and its Ugandan protectors.
Nairobi’s unprecedented military incursion into Somalia, which it said had already killed dozens of Al Shabaab fighters, triggered dire warnings by top a Al Shabaab leader of bloody retaliation.
The foreign ministry in Paris announced the death of Marie Dedieu, a 66-year-old wheelchair-bound woman who was snatched from her beach house in the Kenyan resort of Lamu earlier this month and taken to Somalia by her kidnappers.
“Our aircraft are involved in the operations,” army spokesman Major Emmanuel Chirchir said, on the fourth day since Kenya declared war on the Al Shabaab militia.
Heavy air strikes are reported to have been hitting Al Shabaab positions in efforts to dislodge the militants, before Kenyan-backed Somali government ground troops move in to drive out rebels, according to witnesses.
“Our forces are in good shape to fight this battle to the end,” Chirchir said.
The main forward base of Kenyan operations is at Qoqani, some 100 kilometres (60 miles) from the border, as they prepare to push forward to seize Afmadow, which Somali government forces are already fighting to secure.
“In terms of injuries, the first attack saw the death of 73 Al Shabaab,” Chirchir said, adding that the only Kenyan deaths were five killed in a helicopter crash.
However, a police source in Garissa, on the Kenyan side of the border, told AFP that there were Kenyan casualties.
Kenya’s shock assault against the hardline Al Shabaab has sparked a fierce reaction with the militants warning of reprisals on “all fronts.”
Security forces are planning a “major operation in Nairobi to get rid of Al- Al Shabaab,” Assistant Security Minister Orwa Ojode said Wednesday, a rare admission from the government the Al Shabaab threat exists even in the capital.
The Al Shabaab deny any involvement in the recent kidnapping of foreigners, which have raised questions about Kenya’s ability to host the million tourists who visit each year and one of the world’s largest aid communities.
On Tuesday, a car bomb exploded near the foreign ministry in Mogadishu killing at least five civilians, even as two top Kenyan ministers were holding talks nearby to coordinate the ongoing military operation.
On Wednesday, a roadside bomb went off in Mogadishu, injuring two.
Kenya’s decision to invade came after a British tourist was snatched from a Kenyan resort last month, the French woman from her beachfront home in Lamu and two Spanish aid workers from Dadaab refugee camp last week.
A French government statement said “the conditions of her detention and the fact that the kidnappers probably refused to give her the medication that we sent her” likely led to her death.
Kenya’s assault — dubbed Linda Nchi (“Defend our Country” in Swahili) — began without a mandate but Somalia’s government and Kenya signed a deal Tuesday to “cooperate in undertaking security and military operations,” limiting Kenyan operations to the Lower Juba region.
Uganda, which provides the bulk of the 9,000-strong African Union force protecting the Western-backed Somali government in Mogadishu, said it welcomed Kenya’s military operation.
“Kenya has a right of defence when their security is threatened,” Ugandan acting foreign affairs minister Henry Okello-Oryem told AFP Wednesday.
Analysts say Kenya has sent at least 2,000 troops into Somalia, but the military would not comment on operational figures.
It is not clear how long they intend to stay, but the last time a neighbour invaded Somalia was in late 2006, when Ethiopia toppled an Islamist leadership in Mogadishu.
Ethiopia had tens of thousands of troops for two years but failed to root out the Al Shabaab and ensure the establishment of a robust central government.
Meanwhile two Britons of Somali origin arrested Sunday on the Kenyan-Somali border have been deported “under tight security back to their country,” police spokesman Charles Wahong’o said.
The two “brainwashed” young men had travelled to Kenya to “fight a holy war in Somalia,” the father of one of the arrested men told the BBC.

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