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Spirits high as Kenya Navy kills 18 Shabaab

By | November 4th 2011

By Standard Team and Agencies

The Kenya Navy has sunk a boat filled with 18 suspected Al Shabaab militants as the Kenya Defence Forces say they are confident of winning looming epic battles in Kismayu and Afmadow, despite the insurgents’ rearmament and reinforcements in both towns.

"Let them bring as much [arms] as they can and we are going to reduce them as much as we can," said Military Spokesperson Major Emmanuel Chirchir Thursday. He provided a video clip of the burning boat in the Indian Ocean and said the militia has now turned to using donkeys to ferry weapons.

One of the Kenya Air Force helicopters being used to flush Al Shabaab militants out of the towns they are still holding. The forces have warned of strikes in tenTowns. [PHOTO: COLLINS KWEYU/STANDARD]

Major Chirchir warned that "any large concentration and movement of loaded donkeys will be considered as Al Shabaab activity" by the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF).

The militants are commandeering donkeys in areas they control and the price of the animals has risen by $50 dollars to $200 dollars per donkey. Major Chirchir said Kenyan troops would dominate the coming battles despite the three planeloads of arms sourced by Al Shabaab this week.

He said an aircraft that overflew KDF and Somalia Transitional Federal (TFG) soldiers would be shot down if seen again and warned the owners that it was "a security violation." All aircraft have also been advised not to land in Baidoa.

More KDF and TFG soldiers have been dispatched for Afmadow and Kismayu, for what is shaping up to be one of the decisive battles of ‘Operation Linda Nchi’.

Impending attacks on the two towns held by the militants have been partly delayed by heavy rainfall that has made roads impassable, but KDF’s confidence in capturing the two Al Shabaab nerve centres is due to several reasons.

So far, Kenya enjoys aerial superiority over most of southern and central Somalia, after relentlessly bombing known hideouts of the militants, whose leaders also fear attacks by unmanned US drone aircraft known as Reapers from the new CIA base at Arba Minch in Ethiopia, as well the US Africa Command in Djibouti.

The unmanned craft can fly 1,850km, conduct missions and return to base. The aircraft has in the recent past killed several Al Shabaab leaders on a US Federal Bureau of Investigation watch list, though the US has been public about it not being part of the current operation.Flow of arms

"We will soon deliver on disrupting that flow of arms, and we will ensure they are not effective," said Major Chirchir, in a message posted on Twitter yesterday.

Al Shabaab is taking the aerial threat from Kenya’s Airforce so seriously that it is reinforcing its defences in Kismayu.

Reports from the strategic port city say the insurgents are mounting anti-aircraft guns on rooftops and digging trenches around the town. "They have put their weapons over us. Every high house in the city is a defence for al Shabaab," said Fatuma Ali, a resident in Kismayu who lives next to the rebels’ military base. "Since Kenya mentioned the 10 towns, Al Shabaab have been readying all their weapons and small arms," she said.

"They gave arms to people and they’re telling them to stay and defend the country from foreigners," said a resident Amina Mahmoud. "They said yesterday evening: ‘Everyone of you who dies here is a mujahideen and will enter paradise’."

The terrorists have also been giving arms to students from Kismayu University to defend the southern

Somali port from the expected onslaught

by Kenya’s military.

Other sources told The Standard that more KDF troops have been dispatched to Somalia to form a buffer zone on already identified areas, before the full scale attacks on Afmadow and Kismayu begin.

"We are going to enjoy freedom of action in Somalia for a long time in areas where our troops are," said Major Chirchir, noting that despite the three aircraft that landed with weapons for the Al-Qaeda linked terrorists, supplies to the insurgents have been severely limited.

"We will reduce any threats that they might imagine they can deliver to our troops to a level that they won’t be able to function as a coherent force," he said.

He noted: "We know that Al Shabaab is running low in terms of military hardware. We have managed to considerably reduce their effectiveness, so what they are doing now is trying to build up (numbers) and target these towns. We want to reduce their effectiveness completely." On Tuesday, the military spokesman warned residents of at least 10 towns to beware of an imminent assault targeting Al Shabaab fighters and armaments.

"It is a warning we have issued because we intend to hit these targets. These are places we know there are Al Shabaab and it is the same areas where the arms have been dropped. We will continue tracking them," said Major Chirchir.

Some of the areas include Baidoa Airport, Baadheere, Baydhabo, Dinsur, Kismayu and Afgooye. Others are Bwale, Barawe and Jilib.

Psychological Battle

Initially, the Shabaab believed guerrilla tactics like ambushing military convoys would be effective, but are now also fighting a psychological battle.

The militants are preventing civilians in many of the towns targeted by KDF and TFG forces from leaving by promising them paradise in heaven should they be killed during the battles." They’ve refused to let us out, and we don’t have any money to leave," said Ali. Residents in Afmadow said Al Shabaab had also ordered them to stay at home.

There were no reports on Thursday of any air raids since the KDF sent out its warning two days ago. However, fearful of a confrontation, Somalis were trying to flee towns, only to be stopped by militants.

As Kenyan and Somali forces prepare to confront Al Shabaab in Afmadow and Kismayu, Uganda is adding weight to the diplomatic offensive. Somalia’s President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed is due to leave Uganda today where he has been meeting President Museveni over the offensive. The US has reacted cautiously to an appeal by Kenya and Somalia for international support to impose a blockade on Kismayu.

The US State Department said the blockade must be supported by the African Union and the UN Security

Council, and should avoid making the humanitarian situation in the Horn of Africa nation worse.

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