Gabe Joselow | Nairob
The Kenyan military says it is trying to incapacitate the militant Islamist group al-Shabab by targeting its financial and logistical operations in Somalia.
Kenyan military officials say they are closing in on key al-Shabab targets, four weeks into military operations in Somalia.
Kenyan Army spokesman, Emmanuel Chirchir, says one of the most important objectives of ‘Operation Linda Nchi’ is to take the southern Somali town of Afmadow.
“We believe Afmadow is critical to al-Shabab’s operations, one, because it provides facilities for money transfers and that of course provides opportunities to pay soldiers,” he said. “So that’s one of the critical things. So, once we control Afmadow – in terms of getting rid of al-Shabab and then remaining with the locals who are supporting the operation – then in terms of logistically disabling al-Shabab we will have managed.”
The military has said for weeks that its troops have been poised to advance on Afmadow. But heavy rains have made southern Somalia’s dirt and sand roads nearly impassible, and have slowed Kenya’s military advance on the ground. Kenya has still not disclosed how many soldiers are involved in operations in Somalia.
The military is also relying heavily on its Air Force to hit al-Shabab positions. Major Chirchir says air strikes near the port-town of Kismayo have been successful.
“In Kismayo, it was one of the jetty’s that’s close to the port,” said Chirchir. “There used to be a palatial home and they believe this was the nerve center where they used to plan their battles. But now, after the first incursion and the second incursion we’ve not had – they have resorted to moving back to the city to mix with the local population.”
Kismayo is another important economic asset for al-Shabab, and a city where the United Nations says the group gets much of its financial and material support.
Some civilians have been fleeing the city out of concern over Kenya’s aerial campaign or an impending showdown with al-Shabab. There are also reports that many others have been trapped by the rainy weather, unable to escape.
In eastern Kenya over the weekend, two people were killed and another five were wounded in a grenade attack on a church.
No one has claimed responsibility, but Kenyan authorities say they are investigating a link to al-Shabab, which has vowed to attack Kenya in retaliation for the military offensive.