Frequently changing positions on the joint security operation will top the agenda when leaders meet in Nairobi
Kenyan troops were on Sunday preparing for their long-awaited onslaught on the key town of Afmadow in Somalia after rains subsided in the southern part of the war-torn country.
The mud has delayed Kenyan soldiers’ armoured cars, called motorised infantry in the military, as well as other vehicles bringing supplies.
Al-Shabaab, the Somali terrorist group the military is hunting, is reported to have massed troops around the town, meaning that the impending assault will probably turn out to be the decisive battle of the campaign.
The military sees Afmadow as a critical launch-pad for an attack on Kismayu, the headquarters of Al-Shabaab and allied terrorist elements, such as the remnants of Al-Qaeda.
As battle loomed, Somalia’s Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali flew to Nairobi for talks with government officials over the security operation against Al-Shabaab.
Military spokesman Major Emmanuel Chirchir said it was a matter of time before Kenyan troops engaged Al-Shabaab in the much-awaited battle to capture Afmadow.
“The day has been calm for our troops in Somalia after two days of heavy rains. One of our commanders is prepared to move the troops forward in the battle for Afmadow,” he said.
He added: “We have captured the town of Busar on the north and Burgavo on the south and we anticipate further success in the near future.”
Maj Chirchir said logistics are being moved forward in all directions in readiness to flush Al-Shabaab out of Afmadow.
The Kenya Navy is also likely to taste action this week. The naval force has largely been missing in action for the two-weeks of the incursion.
The Kenyan troops on the southern part of Somalia are mainly at Beles Qooqaani from where they would advance towards Afmadow.
On the other hand, Al-Shabaab has been reportedly busy massing militants around the town and mainly in Woravole area to block the entry of Kenyan troops.
Reports from the town indicate that hundreds of residents are still fleeing to avoid being trapped in the fighting between the Kenyan troops and the militant group.
Afmadow, located in the heart of Juba region, fell in the hands of Al-Shabaab in November 2009 after another militant group, Hizbul-Islam, abandoned the area.
The town is Al-Shabaab’s second economic stronghold after Kismayu.
Meanwhile, military jets are reported to have bombed Jilib Town, 380 kilometres south of Mogadishu. Heavy casualties resulted from the bombing, according to area residents.
No group has claimed responsibility and the casualty reports could not be verified.
At the same time, Kenyan security agencies have stepped up surveillance along the borders to curb an approximate 200 youth who joined Al-Shabaab from sneaking back into the country.
Military and police sources said top on the most wanted list of Kenyans on Al-Shabaab’s payroll is a middle-aged man who is among the most influential Al-Shabaab figures in southern Somalia.
The suspect, identified as Kahale Famau, has been fighting alongside the terror group.
A senior intelligence officer with the Kenya Anti-Terrorism Police Unit described Famau as a highly trained militant and respected figure within Al-Shabaab, who is specifically mandated to handle several issues regarding Kenya, including recruitment of youth.
“He is the mastermind of the menace of Kenyan youths being enlisted in the group mainly those from Coast region. He works closely with a radical Mombasa-based cleric,” said the official on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter.
The man from Kiunga border took over the mantle of dealing with Kenyan issues from Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, who was gunned downed early this year in Mogadishu, according to security sources.
Kenyan security agencies are also watching for Issa Osman Issa, believed to be an Al-Shabaab recruiter and military strategist who trained in Afghanistan and fought in Pakistan among other countries.
Although the nationality of Issa is not clear to both Kenyan and foreign intelligence agencies, he is reported to have played a crucial role in the attacks on Paradise Hotel in Kikambala in 2002 and the failed attempt to down an Israeli airliner at the Moi International Airport, Mombasa.
The Transitional Federal Government of Somalia has been on a collision course with the Kenyan authorities after President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed disowned an earlier agreement and opposed the deployment of Kenyan troops.
Accompanying PM Abdiweli for the talks are ministers for Defence, Commerce, Interior Affairs and other officials.
“We are going to have talks on the security of Somalia and Kenya,” Mr Ali told the Nation at Mogadishu’s Aden Abdulle International Airport.
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