|Somalia Garbaharey map
Kenya sent troops into Somalia in October to fight al-Shabab after kidnappings on its territory [Reuters]
Somalia's Islamist al-Shabab group has denied claims the Kenyan military killed at least 60 fighters in an airstrike, the German news agency dpa reported.
Senior al-Shabab commander, Sheikh Mukhtar Robow Ali, known as Abu Mansour, on Sunday confirmed an attack had taken place in Garbaharey town in southern Somalia's Gedo region, but accused Kenya of lying about the number of dead.
"There were not 60 al-Shabab troops killed," he told dpa by telephone from an undisclosed location, without revealing how many deaths were caused.
"The infidels of Kenya circulated false information to cover up the casualties of their own ground forces, who are facing heavy resistance from our fighters."
This came after Colonel Cyrus Oguna, a Kenyan military spokesman, said dozens of al-Shabab fighters were killed after bombing raids hit rebel positions in Garbaharey on Friday.
"Levels of casualties were very high in air strikes ... Provisional casualties are that al-Shabab lost 60 or more fighters, and more than 50 were injured," Oguna said on Saturday.
An elder in the town of Garbaharey, who did not wish to be named, told dpa that air strikes definitely took place on Friday, but was unable to give any casualty figures.
It is difficult to independently verify claims. Both sides issue wildly varying casualty figures for the same battles, and the Kenyans do not reveal how they come to their totals despite having no troops on the ground at the location of air strikes.
For its part al-Shabab rebels have repeatedly dismissed Kenyan casualty reports as lies.
Al Jazeera’s Peter Greste, reporting from Kenyan capital Nairobi on Saturday, said: "We don’t have independent confirmation and we certainly don’t know what is going on within the ranks of al-Shabab."
"But Kenyans are insisting that al-Shabab is crumbling. They say in the last few weeks there have been close to 30 defections, and most recently a senior intelligence officer defected from the group. We don't know who the officer is, as we don’t have independent confirmation.
"Kenyans believe the organisation is finding it difficult to maintain discipline among its troops."
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Our correspondent said: "Kenyans are also saying they have been able to disrupt al-Shabab’s sources of income, specifically the charcoal trade that runs through the port town of Kismayo, and al-Shabab seems to have lost control of that."
Kenya sent troops into Somalia to fight al-Shabab in October, after a spate of kidnappings on Kenyan territory which Nairobi accuses the Islamist group of carrying out.
The kidnappings threatened Kenya's tourism industry, a key source of revenue for the country.
The October offensive initially stalled due to bad weather, but Kenya has used its air power to harass al-Shabab, targeting bases across southern Somalia, and is now beginning to press harder on the ground.
Al-Shabab began its insurgency in early 2007 following Ethiopia's invasion to oust an Islamist regime, but has been on the back foot this year as it faces pressure from Kenya, pro-government forces and African Union peacekeepers.
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies