The Kenyan navy has shelled Somalia’s port town of Kismayo, the remaining significant stronghold of al-Qaeda-linked fighters, in preparation for the ground forces to capture the town.
The battle over the town is part of a push by the African Union force to permanently defeat the al-Shabab armed group. The shelling began on Saturday, and was continuing into Tuesday.
“If they [the Kenyan forces] manage to capture Kismayo, this could be the beginning of the end for the group,” Al Jazeera’s Nazanine Moshiri reported from Mogadishu.
Kismayo is a crucial base for al-Shabab financially and for supplies, she said.
The Kenyans forces targeted an arms store, a mounted gun position and a road block set up by the fighters, Col. Cyrus Oguna, a military spokesperson, said.
The Kenyan ground troops are moving closer to Kismayo in preparation of an assault to take over the town, he added, and plan to take over the town in the coming days, Oguna said.
Al Jazeera’s Moshiri said: “The Kenyans say around 36 al-Shabab fighters have been killed.”
Five Kenyans soldiers were missing, although the Kenyans have said that two have been recovered.
“However, there have been potentially damaging pictures showing two of these men being dragged around the town of Kismayo,” she said.
“All of this is part of the ongoing battle, between not only Somali government troops and the African Union, but also Kenyans who are trying to cut off al-Shabab from the rest of the country.”
Al-Shabab fighters are waging an insurgency against the UN-backed government that is being bolstered by African Union troops, including Kenyan forces.