Al-Shabab Withdraws From Kismayo, Its Last Somali Stronghold

Posted September 29th, 2012 at 6:25 am (UTC-5)
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Somlia's militant group al-Shabab says it has withdrawn from its last stronghold in the country.

The group said Saturday it has abandoned the Somali port city of Kismayo, a day after Kenyan forces attacked the port city in an operation designed to drive out the militant group. Al-Shabab vowed to strike back.

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.

VOA's Somali Service reported Friday Kenyan and Somali government troops controlled some northern neighborhoods of Kismayo, but that most of the town, including the airport, was still in al-Shabab hands. Two witnesses said the militants mounted machine guns on the town's tallest buildings.

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.