Jets bombed a base run by Islamist al Shabaab rebels north of Somalia’s Kismayu port on Saturday, local residents and officials said, but it was not clear who carried out the raid or whether there were casualties.
Kenya sent troops into anarchic Somalia in October after cross-border raids and kidnappings that it blamed on al Shabaab, which has allied itself with al Qaeda, but regional security has not improved. Somali militants killed nine people in an attack in Kenya’s capital Nairobi last week.
A regional Somali military official said the jets were Kenyan. A Kenyan military spokesman in Nairobi could not confirm this, and neither could U.N. peacekeepers in Somalia.
Al Shabaab confirmed the bombardment and said none of its insurgents had been killed or wounded. But a Somali government official in the area where the attack took place said some militants had been killed in the bombing.
The jets hit the militants’ base near the village of Daytubako, 135 km (84 miles) north of Kismayu, the nerve centre of al Shabaab operations in the Horn of Africa country.
Residents in Jilib, a town 15 km from the scene, described what they saw and heard with respect to the bombing.
« First we saw two jets flying towards Daytubako, and after (some) minutes we heard the thunder of the bombs. The jets bombed, flew past, returned to the same spot and dropped several other bombs, » said Kasim Olow, a Jilib inhabitant.
Al Shabaab said its fighters escaped the bombing.
« The jets bombed Daytubako village, but they killed animals and injured four civilians. No Al Shabaab casualties, » said Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab, al Shabaab’s military spokesman.
« One jet targeted a well where civilians were watering their animals. It dropped several bombs on this well. »
A spokesman for the Western-backed government said there were no civilian casualties and the al Shabaab base was damaged.
« Kenyan jets bombed an al Shabaab base at Daytubako today. Several bombs successfully hit (the base). I am sure more rebels are dead but we do not have the exact number of casualties, » said Mohamud Farah, spokesman for Somali government troops in the Lower Juba region of southern Somalia.
« Pastoralists were fetching water from a well near the al Shabaab base. There were no civilian casualties. »
The African Union peacekeeping force, known as AMISOM, welcomed the raid. « AMISOM has not launched operations in the Kismayu area but we know it is under the (control of) enemies of the Somali people so any attacks on them (rebels) are welcome, » AMISOM spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Paddy Ankunda said.
Kenyan forces thrust into Somalia after raids in the border region that threatened the tourism industry in east Africa’s biggest economy and wider regional destabilization.
Neighboring Ethiopia has also dispatched forces into Somalia to support its shaky government, which holds the capital Mogadishu with the help of AMISOM.
Somalia has been in shambles since warlords toppled dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991. Fighting has killed more than 21,000 people since al Shabaab launched its insurgency in 2007, and possibly over one million in 20 years.
The rebels are fighting to topple the Mogadishu government and impose a harsh brand of Islamic sharia law on Somalia.
By Abdi Sheikh and Feisal Omar;James Macharia; Editing by Mark Heinrich