A Kenyan military spokesman has said that they have killed at least 60 fighters in airstrikes on a base of an al-Qaeda-linked group, the al-Shabab, in Somalia.
“Levels of casualties were very high in air strikes on Friday,” Colonel Cyrus Oguna, Kenyan army spokesman, told reporters on Saturday, adding the bombing raids hit rebel positions in Garbaharey town in southern Somalia’s Gedo region.
“Provisional casualties are that al-Shabab lost 60 or more fighters, and more than 50 were injured,” Oguna said.
He said nine “technicals” – pick-up trucks mounted with guns – were also destroyed.
Oguna said the raids were prompted by a tip-off that al-Shabab gunmen had gathered in the area to refuel their vehicles.
Al-Shabab rebels have repeatedly dismissed Kenyan casualty reports as lies, and it was not possible to confirm the deaths independently.
Al Jazeera’s Peter Greste, reporting from Kenyan capital Nairobi, 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.”
The Al Jazeera 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 across the border into Somalia in October to battle the fighters it blamed for a string of kidnappings on home soil, including those of four Europeans.
The kidnappings threatened Kenya’s tourism industry, a key source of revenue for the country.
Al-Shabab has been fighting against Somalia’s weak, UN-backed government.
Al-Shabab fighters control large parts of central and southern Somalia but are facing growing encirclement from government forces and regional armies.
A 10,000-strong African Union force, made up of troops from Uganda, Burundi and Djibouti, is defending the fragile Western-backed government from attacks by al-Shabab fighters in the war-torn capital Mogadishu.
Ethiopian forces moved across its border into Somalia in November, and last month fought alongside pro-government fighters to wrest control of Beledweyne in central Somalia’s Hiran region from the al-Qaeda-linked group.