The Al Shabaab controlled port city of Kismayo, was shelled by helicopters on Thursday, as Kenyan troops backed by Somali forces attempt to capture the city, Garowe Online reports.
According to local sources in the Lower Juba region, the airstrikes hit three districts under Baadeera and Kismayo city. Bulohaji, Sadeh Lugood and Santaro districts were hit heavily by helicopters that belong to the Kenyan military, residents said.
There have been no reports of casualties as of yet, but residents suggest that the size of the bombardment could result in many civilian casualties.
In an effort to cripple Al Shabaab in Kismayo, Kenya has reverted to strikes from both naval warships and helicopters. Kenyan troops entered Somalia in October of last year, and as of yet have failed to capture the stronghold of Kismayo.
Naval warships patrolling the coast of Kismayo have targeted militant camps and bases in the port city. According to Kenyan military spokesman Emanuel Chirchir, 11 alleged Al Shabaab militants were killed after long range naval guns targeted a suspected Al Shabaab camp. However, residents of Kismayo have expressed concern over the airstrikes which they say led to civilian casualties.
Last Tuesday’s airstrikes in Kismayo led to a mother and her child sustaining critical injuries after a mortar hit their home early that morning.
Mohamed Ali, a Garowe resident whose family lives in Kismayo, said that the terrorist organization has barricaded Kismayo prohibiting residents’ entry or exit. “My wife told me that the Al Shabaab have refused people to leave the city and they are now forced to deal with the onslaught that the Kenyan and Somali forces plan to bring,” said Mr. Ali.
Before AMISOM and Somali forces entered the Afgoye corridor, UN’s Mark Bowden warned African Union troops of the possible civilian casualties in the former Al Shabaab stronghold, but as AMISOM and Somali forces entered the town the militant group fled. Afgoye is home to 400,000 internally displaced peoples (IDPs).
However Kismayo, unlike Afgoye supplies the terrorist organization with steady revenue in the form of taxes and is an extremely strategic city for the Al Shabaab, who has reportedly reinforced their numbers in the port city which is home to many top Al Shabaab leaders.
“I fear innocents will be harmed in this operation because it looks like Al Shabaab is prepared to defend the city; refusing residents exit while Kenyan and Somali forces advance,” said Mr. Ali.
Sheikh Abdiaziz Abu Musab spokesman of the Al Shabaab said that capturing Afmadow was only a dream to the Kenyan army who alongside Somali forces captured the town of Afmadow – 111 kms north of Kismayo – after a fierce battle with Al Shabaab militants.
* Originally published by Garowe Online on June 7, 2012, titled ‘Somalia: Kenya shells Kismayo; Al Shabaab cordons city’.