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September 20, 2012

US Says Fight for Kismayo Could be Decisive Blow Against al-Shabab

by Scott Stearns

The U.S. State Department says East African troops advancing on the Somali port of Kismayo could deliver a decisive blow to Islamic extremists who oppose Somalia's new government. 

Assistant U.S. Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson says Kenyan military advances are part of a major push by the African Union mission in Somalia known as AMISOM.

"The Kenyans appear to be making steady progress," he said.  "We believe that if they are successful as a part of the AMISOM effort in driving al-Shabab out of Kismayo, they will have taken hold of the last major city and last major port controlled by the extremists."

Carson says losing Kismayo would be a major set back for the al-Qaida-affiliated group. "It will be another success for the recovery and rehabilitation that we are all fighting for in Somalia," he said.

Kenyan military spokesman Army Colonel Cyrus Oguna says there are naval and aerial bombardments of al-Shabab positions in Kismayo as well as a ground assault that have reached the town of Jana Cabdalla, about 50 kilometers from the port.

The State Department's Johnnie Carson says political advances in Somalia, including the election of a new president, are underpinned by the military successes of AMISOM troops from Uganda, Burundi, Djibouti, and Kenya.

"We have Mogadishu, the capital, under the control of a central government that has been elected by representatives of all of the major clans and sub-clans.  That's in large measure to the military success of AMISOM," he said.

An al-Shabab radio transmitter that was dismantled earlier this week in Kismayo is running again, broadcasting the group's message and urging residents to stay calm, while vowing to fight to the death.