By Juma Kwayera in Mogadishu
Kenya Defence Force ( KDF), quiet for the past two months on its mission in Somalia to root out Al Shaabab insurgents, roared back into action last week ahead of the signing this weekend of a memorandum of understanding with the African Union to formally deploy troops in the lawless state.
The resumption got off with the killing of 14 militants in the key seaport of Kismayu and the capture of Afmadow town, completing a hoof-shaped attack on the Al Shabaab that also suffered losses in Afgooye under the Uganda and Burundi troops, and Baidoa under the command of Burundi.
The militia group was by end of the week circled, leaving Marka and Kismayu as their only defence lines. KDF spokesman Lt Col Felix Oguna announced on Wednesday that Kenyan troops are expected to seize Kismayu by August.
African Union Mission for Somalia (Amisom) said the indecision over the singing of the agreement had generated considerable concerns that the insurgents — now fleeing Sectors I and IV in the north where an assault on Al Shabaab resumed last week — would concentrate the militiamen in Juba Valley and Kismayu, making it difficult for Kenya soldiers to oust them from their strongholds.
In the rearranged operation to flush out the Islamic fundamentalists, Kenya has been assigned to operate in Sector II, which covers regions south of Mogadishu.
The delayed MoU had reportedly been occasioned by some sticking points, which Nairobi wanted dispensed with before formally committing its 4,500 troops, which had already advanced northwards to roughly 10 kilometres outside Afmadow town.
The troops have been waiting for clearance from the command centre in Mogadishu to resume the onslaught on the insurgents. Amisom Force Commander Lt-Gen Andrew Gutti is optimistic the assault on Al Shaabab will be intensified as soon as the AU signs with Kenya the terms of engagement.
Initially, there had been concerns the delayed MoU had created an opportunity for Al Shabaab to rearm, as senior Kenya officials appeared to be in the dark about the details. When Amisom called Kenya’s ambassador to Somalia James Mutua Mulinge over the status of the MoU with the AU, the envoy would not confirm whether it had been signed.
The agreement had been set for signing at the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, last week.
For the sake of coordinated operations, Amisom has ‘sectorised’ the operations, which leaves KDF in the south where it will be joined by Sierra Leone troops this month, according Lt-Gen Gutti, a Ugandan. The whole mission was designed to make use of KDF’s aerial strength to ‘soften’ the enemy before the ground force moves in.