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Kenyan Jets hit al Shabaab, as rain delays march

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Kenyan jets were on Wednesday pounding al Shabaab positions in Somalia as ground forces prepared a fresh assault against the militia group.

The airstrikes were carried out in areas between Kismayu and the border with Kenya.

On the fourth day of the operation code-named Operation Linda Nchi (Kiswahili for ‘Operation Protect the Nation’), Foreign Affairs Minister Moses Wetang’ula launched a diplomatic drive to win support for Kenya’s offensive against the al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab terror group.

In Nairobi, the army spokesman, Major Emmanuel Chirchir, said Kenyan fighter planes have been hitting al Shabaab positions as Kenyan-backed Somali government ground troops moved in to drive out the rebels.

“Our forces are in good shape to fight this battle to the end,” Maj Chirchir said.

The main base of Kenyan operations is at Qooqani, some 100 kilometres 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 insurgents,” Maj Chirchir said, adding that the only Kenyan deaths were five killed in a helicopter crash.

Pushed forward

The military thrust in southern Somalia has been slowed down by heavy rains, but the troops had pushed forward to within five kilometres of al Shabaab’s stronghold of Afmadow.

Heavy military equipment was stuck on the muddy road to Afmadow town, the army spokesman said.

The Kenyans and their Transitional Federal Government allies want to clear Afmadow of the militants and then push south to Kismayu.

“We want to assemble all our equipment together before the offensive resumes,” Maj Chirchir told the Nation, adding that Kismayu was their ultimate target.

He said the troops were just five kilometres from Afmadow and that they were at Beles Qooqani having captured Dhobley and Tabda, all key al Shabaab towns.

Residents there had reported seeing the Kenyans digging trenches near Afmadow.

Al Shabaab militants were also reported rushing fighters to Afmadow from Kismayu.

Along the coast, the Kenya Navy is keeping vigil to ensure that the coastline is secure.

Mr Wetang’ula and Defence Minister Yusuf Haji were in Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, the headquarters of the Africa Union, and held talks with Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and AU officials.

African Union Commission chairman Jean Ping said Kenya has a right to protect her economic and security interests.

He told Mr Wetang’ula he would defend Kenya’s military action against al Shabaab at the United Nations Security Council.

“Despite persistent provocations by al Shabaab, Kenya has maintained its diplomacy in her foreign policy,” Dr Ping said.