Al-Shabab Withdraws From Kismayo, Its Last Somali Stronghold

Posted September 29th, 2012 at 11:40 am (UTC-5)
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Somalia's militant group al-Shabab says it has withdrawn from Kismayo, its last stronghold in the country, following a military strike by Kenyan forces.

The group said Saturday it had abandoned the Somali port city. On Friday, Kenyan forces attacked Kismayo in an operation designed to drive out the militant group. Al-Shabab vowed to strike back from outside the city.

The Kenyan military said Friday's attack involved land, sea and air forces and was done in coordination with African Union and Somali government troops.

In an interview with VOA, Johnnie Carson, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, said al-Shabab has been “effectively degraded,” but cautioned that they have not been entirely defeated yet.

Some residents reported that people on Saturday were looting buildings formerly occupied by al-Shabab personnel.

Kenyan forces claim they are in control of some of the northern parts of the city and plan to move into the southern areas in the coming days.

Al-Shabab, which is allied with al-Qaida, has used Kismayo's seaport to raise money through taxes, as well as to import weapons.

Kenyan forces entered Somalia last year after a series of cross-border kidnappings that Kenya blamed on the militant group.

Pro-Somali government forces have been moving toward Kismayo for more than a month. Kenyan warplanes and warships attacked Kismayo earlier this week ahead of the attempt to push the militants out.

The U.N. refugee agency reported Friday that about 12,000 people left Kismayo in the past month, in some cases to avoid forced recruitment by al-Shabab.

The militant group is seeking to overthrow Somalia's government and impose a hardline form of Islamic law in the country. The group once controlled most of southern and central Somalia, but has lost most of its territory over the past 18 months to pro-government forces.

Carson told VOA that the combined efforts of an African Union intervention force and Ethiopian, Kenyan, and Somali forces are contributing to political progress and an eventual return to stability in Somalia.