Operation Linda Nchi may be nearing the climax of a key phase. The BBC and Voice of America are reporting this morning that Al-Shabaab fighters are leaving the strategically important Somalia port of Kismayu.
Residents reportedly told the Voice of America (VOA) that al-Shabaab leaders had already fled and that their fighters started leaving on Sunday after heavy fighting with Somali and Kenyan troops.
Dozens were reported killed and the commander of the Somali forces says al-Shabaab has been defeated.
AL-SHABAAB LEAVING ON BUSES AND TRUCKS
Local residents say militants have been leaving on buses and trucks, taking heavy equipment with them, and have closed their radio station, Radio Andalus. Residents in the port city said it is calm, but some claimed al-Shabab have left behind armed youths with orders to shoot anyone believed to be against the group.
Kismayu has been Al-Shabaab’s main base in its fight against the Somali government. African Union (AU) soldiers in alliance with the Somali National Army and the Ras Kamboni Brigade, have been closing in on the town for several days.
Two days ago heavy fighting was reported around the strongly fortified town of Birta Dheer and Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) were reported as advancing on Jana Cabdalla, 40 kilometres from Kismayu. There are also reports of fighting at Soyaac where 36 Al-Shabaab fighters are said to have been killed.
AL-SHABAAB DENY REPORTS
Al-Shabaab denies the reports, saying they have fought off AU forces.
Muhammad Usman Arus, a spokesman for Al-Shabaab reportedly told the BBC that their fighters had killed around 100 Kenyan and Somali troops and pushed them back from Kismayu.
“We are in Kismayu – this is a propaganda war. The Kenyan and Somali forces have already broken off and gone back to their positions,” he said.
STRATEGIC BLOW TO MILITANTS
Analysts say that losing the strategic stronghold of Kismayu would be a major blow to Al-Shabaab. In July, a UN report said the export of charcoal from Kismayo and Merca helped al-Shabab generate millions of dollars – despite a UN Security Council ban on countries buying charcoal from Somalia.
News of al-Shabaab’s possible defeat in Kismayu came as Somalia’s new president, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, was inaugurated in Mogadishu. President Mohamud said that security was his top priority and vowed to unite Somalia.