Thursday, September 20, 2012
NAIROBI (Xinhua) -- The Africa Union peacekeeping forces in Somalia (AMISOM) and local government troops on Wednesday captured another key town in the south from the rebel group Al-Shabaab, the Kenyan military said.
Kenya Defense Forces (KDF) spokesman Col. Cyrus Oguna said the KDF and Somali National Army (SNA) captured Jana Cabdalla, a key rebel stronghold in the Lower Jubbat region at 2:45 p.m. local time.
"During the operation, the allied forces encountered a series of resistance in the last three days that culminated in the capture of the town. Several Al-Shabaab militants were killed in the engagement and assorted weapons and ammunition recovered," Oguna said in Nairobi.
He said two KDF personnel and five SNA soldiers sustained minor injuries in the military operation.
"The injured soldiers were flown to Dobley for medical attention," Oguna said.
Janaa Cabdalla is 50 km away from Al-Shabaab’s main base in Kismayo.
Its capture signifies a milestone in the AMISOM offensive to liberate the Indian Ocean port city.
Kismayo, Somalia’s third largest city, is considered the hub of Al-Shabaab, which formally merged with the dreaded global terror network Al-Qaida, after years of pledging loyalty and ideological similarities.
The strategic town has seen some of the most intensified battles since the deployment of the Kenyan troops in mid-October 2011. Kenyan naval warships and helicopter gunships are shelling Al-Shabaab’s positions in Kismayo.
The capture came as the UN humanitarian official for Somalia discussed with Kenyan officials how to protect civilians as the military operations to take Kismayo intensify.
UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia Mark Bowden held talks in Nairobi with Kenya’s Minister of State for Defense Yusuf Haji and Chief of Defense Forces Gen. Julius Karangi, following the recent escalation of fighting near Kismayo and the spike in civilian displacement from the town.
"I welcome Kenya’s assurances and reiterate my call for all parties to the conflict to make every effort to minimize the impact of conflict on civilians and to allow full humanitarian access to all people in need," Bowden said in a statement on Wednesday.
The UN refugee agency UNHCR said last week that about 3,500 Somalis left Kismayo in the past three months as the soldiers intensified their military operations against Al-Shabaab.
The development also came as AMISOM called for calm among residents of Kismayo, following reports of Al-Shabaab fighters fleeing the town.
AMISOM Deputy Force Commander Simon Karanja said the African peacekeeping force was concerned about reports that civilians were being attacked by militants in their homes and being forced to flee the town.
"We appeal for all to remain calm. AMISOM’s intent remains to liberate the people of Kismayo to enable them to lead their lives in peace, stability and security," Karanja said in a statement.
Troops from AMISOM’s Kenyan contingent have captured a string of towns on the ground from Afmadow to Kismayo, most recently the strategic town of Bibi.
"We urge all the fighters remaining in Kismayo to lay down their arms.
"Already a number of them have contacted us indicating their wish to cease fighting and we have assured them of their safety if they give themselves up to our forces," Karanja said.
The military commander also appealed to humanitarian agencies to come to the aid of the people fleeing to areas liberated by AMISOM and Somali security forces.
"We stand ready to facilitate any efforts to ease the suffering of the population," he said.