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Kenyan Fighter Jets Bomb Rebel-Held Somali Port City

9/26/2012 6:09 PM ET

Kenya's military said Wednesday that its fighter jets have carried out an air strike on military targets belonging to the al-Shabaab Islamic militant group in Somali port city of Kismayo, adding that the an armory and warehouse used by the militant group were destroyed in the attack.

According to the Kenyan military, the fighter jets dropped three bombs on the armory and warehouse located close to Kismayo's airport. The airstrikes came ahead of a planned ground onslaught on the rebel-held port city.

The port of Kismayo had been under the control of al-Shabaab and allied Islamist militant groups since August 2008 and was earlier considered to be a militant stronghold. Revenue generated from the export of charcoal from the port provided millions of dollars to the militants to fund their fight against the Somali government.

Currently, a coalition of Somali security forces, African Union peacekeepers and Kenyan troops are advancing towards the port to capture it from the Islamist rebels. The ensuing clashes have reportedly killed at least fifty people and forced thousands to flee fighting in the lower Jubba region.

The coalition force had earlier captured the strategic town of Afmadow from al-Shabaab militants four months ago, clearing the route for the offensive on Kismayo. The coalition had captured the Afgoye corridor, a strategic stretch of land between Mogadishu and the previously al-Shabaab held town of Afgoye.

If Kismayo eventually falls to the advancing coalition forces, it will be a major blow to the al-Shabaab group. Until recently, al-Shabaab and other allied groups controlled large areas in southern Somalia where they enforced strict Islamic laws or Sharia. But in recent months, the Islamist rebel groups have lost control of most areas to the coalition forces.

Incidentally, al-Shabaab is Somalia's most prominent and influential Islamist militant unit, and is branded a terrorist organization by the United States and most of the international community. The al-Qaeda aligned outfit is the military wing of the Islamist movement ousted by Ethiopia-backed Somali forces in 2006.

Kenyan troops are currently in Somalia as part of a cross-border operation aimed at driving al-Shabaab militants away from the border separating the two nations. Since their arrival in Somalia last year, Kenyan forces have managed to capture several al-Shabaab strongholds.

Somalia had been undergoing a peace and national reconciliation process in recent months, with the country's transitional federal institutions implementing the "Roadmap for the End of Transition" devised last September.

The transition process culminated in the election of Hassan Sheikh Mohamud as President earlier this month, giving the country its first proper government since the fall of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre's government in 1991. Nevertheless, Somalia still witnesses frequent bombings and militant attacks, mainly in the capital city of Mogadishu.

by RTT Staff Writer

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