By David Ochami in El Wak

Kenya Defence Forces now control most of the strategic Gedo region in Somalia after Al Shabaab militia fled, according to Kenyan and Transitional Federal Government officials in the northern sector.

"All Shabaab is now on the run," TFG’s military commander in Gedo, Abbas Ibrahim Gure told The Standard.

This follows the ouster of the militia group from Burhache town. The Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) and Transitional Federal Government (TFG) troops are carrying out operations as far as Bardheere, more than 100 kilometres inside Somalia.

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Abbas described Al Shabaab as "hyenas that will never change" and must be ousted by the use of force.
Kenya Defence Forces panhard tank patrols Damasa area in Gedo region as a soldier keeps vigil. [PHOTO: GEORGE MULALA/STANDARD]

Despite providing some of the initial rationale for the Kenyan operation in the form of constant shelling of Kenyan towns, detonation of landmines and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) like roadside bombs, and abduction of foreigners and Kenyan security forces, operations in the northern sector of Operation Linda Nchi are the least documented.

Geographically the sector extends from Gerille town below Wajir district in Kenya up to Mandera in the North, making it the largest sector that includes such important Somali towns as Bulla Hawa (or Beled Hawa as it is called), Damasa, Burhache, Busar, Garbaharey, Bardheere (an ancient Islamic studies town), Luuq, Dolo, Catamu and Busar among others.

The northern parts of the sector are mountainous with deep valleys within the Juba Valley river system while the Southern parts are drier plains with lighter population.

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Ethnically, the region it is populated by ethnic Marehan and the late despot Muhamed Siad Barre is buried in Garbaharey. Some accounts state that Barre was born there, although other authorities suspect he was born in Ethiopia1s Ogaden region, but grew up in Garbaharey.

Historically Gedo and Puntland have been the source of Islamist militancy, including the rise in the 1990s of the defunct Al-Ittihad al-Islami (AIAI), the ideological predecessor of the former Islamic Courts Union and Al Shabaab, especially in the towns of Luuq and Dolo.

Smugglers, human traffickers and other transnational criminals who terrorise Kenya and Ethiopia had found a save haven in Gedo’s un-policed towns and hinterland.

From Bula-Hawa, militants and other criminals have shelled Mandera and El Wak towns since the collapse of Somalia’s central government in 1991.

Many of these attacks went unreported. Last

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Month, infiltrators from Bula Hawa blew up a truck and killed four Ministry of Education officials in El Wak, and also tried to attack the local police station.

Police and military sources indicate that all the IEDs and land mines that have struck Mandera during the ongoing operation and before have come from the northern sector.

Since 2007 and this year, several Kenyan security and government officials, civilians and foreign workers have been abducted from El Wak and Mandera into Bula-Hawa and other towns in Gedo.

The most egregious attack was on June 10 when two policemen, were snatched from a foot patrol by suspected smugglers or militants.

It is believed they were initially taken to Garbaharey, but their current whereabouts remain unknown.

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In 1997, Kenya shut down the operations of a Saudi agency, Al Haramain Islamic Foundation, after one of its Algerian managers in Garissa, was alleged to have recruited about 300 Kenyan youth into AIAI, after visiting Luuq and Dolo, that had just been overrun by Ethiopian forces, scattering the forerunners of Al Shabaab into central and southern Somalia.

Kenya Defence Forces have deployed in the northern sector that largely covers the troubled Gedo region towards Baidoa in Somalia1s

Bay region.

Kenyan aircraft have hit several Al Shabaab targets in Bardheere in Gedo. The militants claimed the planes struck a relief camp although aid agencies said it had been evacuated before the strikes.

TFG officials say the claims are "classic Al Shabaab propaganda".

Yesterday, TFG officials said an air strike on one of the militants’ pick-up trucks known as "technicals" full of Al Shabaab fighters in a small town called Yaqle in Gedo region was aborted because the militants forced civilians onto the vehicle to deter missile strikes from the air.

It is not easy to determine the nature and scope of KDF’s operations in Gedo, but occasional details emerge, including an encounter with

Al Shabaab militants in Busar town, 50 kilometres from the Kenyan border.

Lose border towns

And beyond the air strikes, the Kenyans provide aerial and electronic reconnaissance missions, training in and outside Somalia, joint searches and patrols and special operations to strengthen the TFG in liberated areas.

Until early this year the terrorists held sway in most of the towns in Gedo. Burhache was taken by the TFG in March and the Al Shabaab ousted from most towns like Damasa, Luuq, Dolo at the start of the Kenyan operation.

The TFG spokesman for the region, Colonel Warfa Sheikh Aden, claims their troops and KDF have liberated 80 per cent of Gedo and adds that "the only town that has not been liberated is Bardheere" although reliable reports indicate Garbaharey, Ahlu Sunna Wal Jama1a, a moderate Islamist militia allied to the TFG, controls the official capital of the region.

KDF and TFG military strategists believe forcing Al Shabaab out of Gedo region is a strategic objective of the two governments.

Besides losing territory or frontier control according to Lieutenant Mohamed Hassan, the Commander of Kenyan forces in the northern sector, the ouster of Al Shabaab from Burhache, Damasa and Bulla Hawa have denied it revenue generated through taxation and extortion in its former border towns.

"When they lose border towns they lose revenue besides room to maneuver," said Lt Hassan adding that their ouster cost Al Shabaab major routes connecting Gedo to Ethiopia and Kenya to launch attacks.

Shabaab Gedo Kenya Defence Forces Somalia Transitional Federal Government