Kenyan troops clashed with Somalia’s Al-Qaeda linked Shebab militants in southern Somalia, the latest attack in a three-month long push forward against insurgent bases, officials said on Monday.
Two Kenyan and one Somali soldiers were killed during an attack late on Sunday on hardline Shehab positions at Delbio and Hosingo, said Kenyan army spokesman Major Emmanuel Chirchir, who claimed Shebab gunmen had retreated.
Kenya « unfortunately lost two of its personnel while TFG (Somali government) lost one, » Chirchir said, adding that 11 Shehab fighters were killed in the attacks, some 30 kilometres (18 miles) from the Kenyan frontier.
None of the casualty reports could be independently verified, and the Shebab have repeatedly dismissed Kenyan claims that it has killed large numbers of its forces as propaganda.
Kenya sent troops across the border into Somalia in October to battle the extremist Shehab it blamed for a spate of attacks on home soil, and is fighting alongside Somali pro-government forces.
The Shebab insurgents control large parts of central and southern Somalia but are facing increasing pressure from government forces and regional armies.
Armies from neighbouring countries are converging on the Shebab — Kenyan forces in the south, Ethiopian soldiers in the west, and an African Union force in Mogadishu made up of 10,000 troops from Uganda, Burundi and Djibouti.
At the weekend, a Shebab fighter was killed in an airstrike in Afgoye, a town hosting thousands of refugees west of the Somali capital Mogadishu, forcing civilians to flee the area Monday, residents and officials said.
« People are returning to Mogadishu for security reasons, » Said Mohamed Hassan, a Somali security official, said.
« Al-Shebab commanders and their Al-Qaeda allies will be targeted wherever they are in Somalia, including the Afgoye corridor and that is why people are now avoiding living in areas under their control. » he added.
On Saturday, a Shebab foreign fighter was killed in an air raid, the group’s spokesman Ali Mohamud Rage said, identifying him as Hilal Al Barzawi from Lebanon with British citizenship.
« The people in Afgoye corridor are afraid of the aerial bombardments, there are many Al-Shebab commanders here and they could be targeted. Hundreds of people decided to move back to Mogadishu, » said Sakariye Osmail, who returned to the capital.
The Horn of Africa country has been ravaged by a nearly uninterrupted civil war since the 1991 ouster of president Mohamed Siad Barre sparked vicious bloodletting by rival militias fighting for power.