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October 01, 2012

Somali Forces Move Into al-Shabab Stronghold

by Mohammed Yusuf

Witnesses in Kismayo confirm to VOA that Somali government forces have entered the city on Monday and are taking control of former al-Shabab bases.

But Johnnie Carson, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, warned that al-Shabab has been "effectively degraded" but not entirely defeated.

African Union and Somali troops have entered the Somali port city, two days after the militant group al-Shabab announced it had deserted the city for tactical reasons.  But a Somali army commander in Kismayo says the militants still have a presence in the city and pose a serious threat to incoming forces.

Somali army commander Abdullahi Olow confirmed to VOA some forces entered Kismayo Monday, after days of being stationed at the outskirts of the city.

“We entered the city to do patrols and we have pulled some of them," said Olow. "We have built some defensive positions. The situation looks a bit calm. Now we will start security operations.

​​Early Friday, Kenyan forces launched a long-awaited assault against al-Shabab militants in Kismayo, sending soldiers into the city from the beach.  Later that evening, the militants left their defensive positions and announced they had closed down their offices.

Despite al-Shabab’s exit, city residents still live in fear, as the security situation remains volatile. 

Somali local media report some remaining al-Shabab fighters and clan militias have killed nine civilians, including clan elders, in the last three days.

Olow says the militant group, despite deserting the port city, still poses a serious threat to his forces and civilians.

“First, we built defensive positions at junction points in the city and roads leading into the town.  Next we will enter the city and take the control with a lot of care," said Olow. "There are some explosives around, they are some remnants of al-Shabab armed with pistols assassinating people.  It’s because of security reasons we didn’t enter the city.” 

Security might be a reason that allied forces did not immediately enter the city, but experts say politics is another factor that has delayed troops going in and filling the power vacuum left behind by al-Shabab.

Mediation talks are going on in Nairobi with Somali clans who are arguing about control of the port city that was once al-Shabab’s financial hub.