Tabda - An 80-year-old Somali woman fondly recalled her younger days. There
was peace in Somalia then, and people in this town of Tabda in the arid
scrublands of the country's south did not rely on the mercy of others for
Khadra Muhamud Aden says food supplies to the area are running low because
fighting between Kenyan troops and the al-Qaeda-affiliated Somali militant
group al-Shabaab is blocking food from both the Kenyan border and the Somali
port of Kismayo.
Officials said Somalia's south is now in the beginning stages of a
humanitarian crisis because they are not getting the needed supplies, and
they urged more relief agencies to step in.
"We want the al-Shabaab out of here for good. Life used to be so good. We
used to have peace, could sleep at night. Now every day there are gunshots
at night. Now when you sleep with fear because al-Shabaab can come into your
home and kill you," Aden said
The Kenyan army blames al-Shabaab for the blockage, and says that it is also
slowing the army's advance toward Kismayo. Instead of fighting forward
against the militants, troops are delivering food aid to those in need in an
attempt to win favor in areas that were controlled by al-Shabaab until
The Kenyan military knows that without winning over residents like Aden its
troops will soon be seen as invading occupiers.
Kenya sent hundreds of troops into Somalia in October to pursue al-Shabaab
militants whom it accuses for cross-border attacks and the kidnapping of ten
Kenyans and four Europeans, which threatened to destroy Kenya's tourism
industry, a key source of revenue for the economy.
Kenyan Lt Col Jeff Nyaga said the army needs help to meet the humanitarian
needs of the people in the towns that are now controlled by the army.
"Before Kenyan Defence Forces came in most of the goods were coming from
Kismayo. But as a punishment to their own people al-Shabaab have not been
allowing some of these goods to come from the port of Kismayo, precipitating
a crisis," said Nyaga, who is leading operations in Tabda and the
More aid needed
Nyaga said some local aid groups have been supplying relief food, but that
it has not been enough, and that international relief agencies are needed.
Most international aid groups don't operate in southern Somalia because of
safety concerns. He said piracy problems off Somalia's coast are also
affecting international shipping lines.
Brig Johnson Ondieki, the head of the Kenyan ground force in Somalia, said
the military's priority is to ensure that al-Shabaab does not return to
areas that Kenyan forces have secured.
"Time is not important to us, the most important thing is how best we can
make secure the areas we have liberated," said Ondieki.
Ondieki said that the Kenyan troops are fighting a militia that can melt
into the population and re-emerge when Kenyan troops move forward.
"Our intention is to pacify, allow the political structure to take place and
after the political structure takes control we will be able to proceed with
our mission. And our mission remains to proceed up to Kismayo," Ondieki.
Ondieki said Afmadow, the second biggest town under al-Shabaab control, was
within reach of the Kenyan forces and that they can capture it soon. He said
al-Shabaab has been weakened after suffering heavy losses from Kenyan air
and ground attacks.
Meanwhile, the Somali government said that Ethiopian and pro-government
troops seized two villages near the militant-held strategic town of Baidoa,
the former Somali parliament seat.
Mohamed Mohamud Sheikh Ibrahim, Somalia's deputy prime minister and
agriculture minister, told a news conference in Mogadishu that troops would
capture Baidoa by Friday.
Baidoa is a major bases for al-Shabaab.
Residents in one of the two captured towns - Yurkud - said they saw tanks
and trucks carrying Ethiopian troops arrive after a brief gun battle with
al-Shabaab fighters who vacated the village.
"Ethiopian troops are here now, al-Shabaab have left few hours ago," Yusuf
Ali, a resident in the village, said by phone. "Most of the residents fled
because fears of fighting in the village, but the situation is quiet now."
Residents in Baidoa said that bearded, masked men shut down businesses and
ordered residents to join them, indicating military pressure is looming.
Teenagers were reported to be conscripted.
"Most of the businesses were closed and they took many of the town residents
to the front line," Mahad Abdi Nur, a resident in Baidoa, said by phone.
"They warned that any men of fighting age who don't enlist will be
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Received on Tue Feb 21 2012 - 18:36:55 EST