Kenyan Troops Enter Southern Somalia

Posted October 16th, 2011 at 7:00 pm (UTC-5)
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Reports from southern Somalia say Kenyan troops have entered the area to fight against the militant group al-Shabab, though Kenya's defense minister denies the claim.

An official with Ras Kamboni, a militia allied with the Somali government, tells VOA that about 400 Kenyan soldiers crossed the border on Friday and were in the Lower Jubba region Sunday, assisting Somali government forces.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the Kenyans are advancing on Afmadow, a town controlled by al-Shabab.

Kenya's Defense Minister Yusuf Haji told VOA earlier that Kenya is not sending troops into Somalia.

But other Somali and Kenyan officials and witnesses confirm Kenyan forces have entered Somalia, following a buildup of troops on the border. They say the troops are backed by military aircraft. And in Liboi, a Kenyan town near the border with Somalia, residents said a Kenyan military helicopter crashed there Sunday evening.

Al-Shabab vowed to fight back against the Kenyans, calling on all Somalis to defend against “the enemy.”

Kenyan authorities blame al-Shabab for a series of recent kidnappings.

The kidnapping victims include a British tourist, a French woman and two Spanish aid workers. The Spaniards, with the medical aid group Doctors Without Borders, were kidnapped Thursday from the massive Dadaab refugee camp.

Saturday, Internal Security Minister George Saitoti announced Kenya would fight back against al-Shabab, “wherever they will be.”

Al-Shabab controls large sections of southern Somalia, including some areas near the border.

Kenyan forces have crossed into Somalia before, although this incursion appears to be on a larger scale.

In a related development, Al-Shabab withdrew its forces Saturday from the town of Qoqani in Lower Jubba, after clashes with government troops and Ras Kamboni.