Somalis succeed in bid to oust Kismayu al-Shabaab militants
Hundreds of Somali government troops and allied militia fighters deployed throughout the centre of the former al-Shabaab rebel stronghold of Kismayu yesterday, sending locals scrambling for cover.
Residents said there was no immediate retaliation from the al-Qaeda-linked militants who fled the southern port city on Friday after Kenyan and Somali troops launched an assault by sea, air and land.
Mohamud Farah, a spokesman for Somali’s army in the southern Juba regions, said 450 government soldiers and fighters from an allied militia had deployed in the city centre to patrol the sandy streets and twisting alleyways.
Resident Ismail Nur said: “We have now seen troops walking in the town. We are running into houses and shops have closed. We are afraid of explosions.”
Another, Halima Farah, said Kismayu had turned into a ghost-town. Troops had occupied the police headquarters building and district administration office, she said.
“I can also see through the cracks of windows that some of them are on the rooftops near those positions,” Ms Farah said.
Al-Shabaab has said that although it had retreated from Somalia’s second-biggest city, its fighters were poised to engage the allied troops once they entered the city centre, threatening to turn the streets into a “battlefield”.
“So far there has been no resistance,” Ms Farah said.
Kenya’s military used the social media site Twitter to declare its forces had helped to take control of the seaport, and police headquarters.
“[Kenyan Defence Forces] have established no-fire zones around markets, schools, mosques and hospitals,” the Kenyan army said on its official Twitter page.
Residents said it was unclear whether Kenyans were in the city centre or still camped out on the outskirts and were divided over whether the arrival of government forces in the city was positive.
Winning control of Kismayu, however, is the easy part, while establishing a political administration respected by all clans will be much tougher, political analysts say.
There are concerns a prolonged power vacuum in Kismayu could give way to renewed violence as rival groups jockey for control of the lucrative port in a city where the rebels’ strict application of Islamic law alienated a huge portion of the population.
“We hope security will improve with the presence of the troops,” said shopkeeper Bare Nur.
Faiza Mohamed, a green- grocer, was more circumspect.
“We’re not against the government, but Kismayu will become like Mogadishu,” she said, referring to al-Shabaab’s campaign of suicide bombings and targeted killings that has swept the capital since the group withdrew from there 14 months ago.
“I am sure security will worsen if the troops come in,” she said.
An army spokesman said the allied forces had been cautious about entering Kismayu, wary that the militants might have laid explosives around the city.
The rebel group, which counts foreign al Qaeda-trained fighters among its ranks, is seen as one of the biggest threats to stability in the Horn of Africa. It formally merged with al-Qaeda in February.
Al-Shabaab was swift to harass the weak government of newly-elected president Hassan Sheikh Mohamud with suicide bombings and assassinations.
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