* Shabaab claims victory in Mogadishu battle (Adds Kenyan military comment,
By Aaron Maasho and Ibrahim Mohamed
NAIROBI/MOGADISHU, Oct 22 (Reuters) - Kenya said Somalia's al Shabaab
militants were on the run after it deployed more troops and struck rebel
targets by air to secure its border from rebels Nairobi accuses of
kidnapping foreigners on its soil.
But in the Somali capital Mogadishu, the al Qaeda-linked militants have been
putting up stiff resistance against African Union peacekeepers (AMISOM) and
government troops who in August had driven the rebels out of most of the
Kenyan troops stormed the Somali border six days ago to oust the militants
who they say have taken several foreigners hostage in recent weeks,
threatening Kenya's reputation as a relatively safe investment and tourism
Kenyan Foreign Minister Moses Wetangula said Nairobi was making gains
against the insurgents in southern Somalia.
"We've made tremendous progress and al Shabaab are definitely on the run.
They are also looking weaker by the day," he told reporters late on Friday
after an emergency meeting of regional group IGAD in the Ethiopian capital
Witnesses said on Friday that armoured vehicles and trucks carrying
weaponry, food supplies and tents were seen leaving four military camps in
Isiolo in northern Kenya and heading towards the border.
"The whole area is like a warzone. It's like the whole of our military is
going to Somalia," said Ali Barre, a resident at Diff village in Wajir
south, near the Kenyan-Somali border.
Residents in the southern Somali town of Afmadow, where the rebels have
hunkered down, said they heard air strikes overnight.
"There are al Shabaab fighters between Hayo and Afmadow and currently it is
a frontline," Afmadow resident Abdirahim Ali Abukar told Reuters.
"We heard heavy bombardments yesterday afternoon and throughout the night
... but we don't know the specific area and the casualties," he said.
A Somali colonel confirmed "bombardment operations" had taken place after
heavy rain hampered the ground troops' advance.
"Today we have killed eight al Shabaab fighters, including four foreigners
in a bombardment in Kolbio," Yusuf Abdi told Reuters, referring to a town
just taken by Kenyan troops, along with the town of Oddo.
On Saturday, the Kenyan military said it had moved beyond Oddo and that it
had launched an air strike on Munarani, 10 km away from Oddo, hitting an al
Shabaab command centre.
"We've not encountered any resistance in the towns we secured so far. We are
very keen in reducing the effectiveness of al Shabaab in using their
weapons," military spokesman Emmanuel Chirchir told Reuters.
Kenya is the latest of Somalia's neighbours to intervene militarily in a
country that has not had an effective government for the last 20 years and
where al Shabaab's presence has had serious security repercussions on the
Regional group IGAD expressed its support for Kenya's operation in Somalia
and urged the U.N. Security Council to impose a no-fly zone on parts of
Somalia and a blockade on Kismayu, the southern port city that serves as the
rebels' nerve centre.
SHABAAB CLAIMS VICTORY
In Mogadishu, the rebels launched a counter-attack late on Friday in the
Daynile district, the scene of a battle on Thursday in which AMISOM said at
least 10 of its soldiers had been killed.
Senior Somali and Burundian military officials have also said some soldiers
are missing from that battle, indicating the toll could be higher.
Some 9,000 soldiers from Burundi and Uganda make up AMISOM and the force
commander has called for an increase in troops to be able to fully secure
Al Shabaab say they have killed more than 70 peacekeepers and displayed
their corpses in uniform to journalists on Thursday. The AU force dismissed
it as propaganda.
On Saturday the rebels took journalists around parts of Daynile district
that it still controlled and displayed an anti-aircraft gun mounted on a
pickup truck they said they seized from government and AU forces in the
"I would like to congratulate the Shabaab mujahideen fighters who showed
courage and bravery in the fight against AMISOM, particularly the last
historic conflict in Daynile in which dozens of AU invaders were massacred,"
al Shabaab leader Sheikh Abu Zubeyr told the militants' radio station Al
Andalus on Saturday.
Since being forced out of Mogadishu months ago, the militants have managed
to carry out attacks against government institutions, raising concerns about
AMISOM's and the Western-backed government's failure to secure the capital.
(Additional reporting by Humphrey Malalo in Nairobi; Mohamed Ahmed, Sahra
Abdi and Feisal Omar in Mogadishu; Writing by Yara Bayoumy; Editing by
C Thomson Reuters 2011 All rights reserved
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Received on Sat Oct 22 2011 - 17:59:55 EDT