|Djiboutian soldiers arrive in Mogadishu to bolster African Union troops fighting against al-Shabab [Reuters]|
A warplane bombed a Somali village held by al-Shabab fighters near the border with Kenya on Tuesday, killing several civilians, a Somali military official said.
It was not immediately possible to identify who carried out the attack in the village of Hosungow, which is near the area of Dhobley – itself under the control of Somali government and Kenyan troops, as well as a militia allied to Somalia’s government.
But neighbouring Kenya, which sent troops across the border into Somalia to crush the al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabab fighters, has intensified air strikes in recent weeks since the ground and air offensive began in October.
“The jet first dropped bombs on the outskirts of the village … but then returned in the afternoon, dropping bombs in the village’s centre. Parts of the village, especially shops, are now burning,” Mohamed Gelle, a Hosungow resident, told the Reuters news agency.
Another resident, Bakar Hussein, described a similar sequence of events, saying a jet first bombed the outskirts then later returned to strike the village centre.
The residents gave different numbers for those dead, saying between 12 and 14 civilians had been killed.
“Casualties were taken to their homes since there are no hospitals,” Hussein said.
The Kenyan military confirmed it carried out two air raids, and said an al-Shabab commander and 17 fighters were killed. But it denied any civilians died.
Mahmud Farah, the spokesman for Somalia’s government forces in Dhobley, said an air strike targeted a military base and training camp for al-Shabab.
“We do not know the loss but there was big damage,” Farah said.
Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab, an al-Shabab spokesman, said a jet had targeted the group in the village. He denied suffering any casualties but said nine civilians had been killed.
Kenyan troops crossed into Somalia in October after a wave of kidnappings and cross-border raids it blamed on the rebels, who control large swathes of southern and central Somalia.
Its forces initially advanced smoothly on al-Shabab-held towns in Somalia’s southern border regions but have since become bogged down by heavy rains and a lack of clear strategy.
The fighters have adopted a strategy of melting into the population from where they can launch hit-and-run attacks on Kenyans, rather than confront the army head on.
Kenya wants its forces in Somalia to be integrated into the African Union’s AMISOM force that has peacekeepers in Mogadishu.
On Tuesday, the first of a 900-strong Djiboutian force arrived to augment the African peacekeeping force.