Nairobi – Thirty insurgents in Somalia’s al-Qaeda-aligned Shabaab jihadist group were killed Wednesday in heavy clashes in the south and northeast of the country, Kenya’s armed forces and local authorities said separately.
In the first incident, the Kenya Defence Force (KDF) said it had thwarted an assault on a military camp at Afmadhow in the Lower Juba area in southern Somalia, killing 19 rebels and seizing a haul of weapons.
Kenyan troops operating under the African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM) mission “foiled a planned attack” near the camp, operated by the Somali National Army (SNA) and AMISOM, the KDF said in a statement.
“The… terrorists had approached the camp at night with the intent to attack and cut off the SNA from the AMISOM KDF camp,” it said.
“KDF soldiers on patrol identified the militants and engaged them in a fierce battle. The (Shebab) attempted to fight back, but were swiftly repulsed by the KDF soldiers on patrol and those at the camp,” it said, quoting army spokesman David Obonyo.
“Following the incident, 19 (Shebab) militants were killed and one technical vehicle destroyed. Some of the arms and ammunition recovered include 10 AK 47 rifles and three rocket-propelled grenades.”
In a separate incident on Wednesday, troops in Somalia’s semi-autonomous Puntland region killed 11 Shebab in heavy fighting in villages on the northeastern coast, local authorities said.
The clashes came a day after around 100 insurgents sought to take control of the villages of Garmal and Suuj, near the port of Eyl, a pirate hotspot, local officials and residents said.
“Puntland forces have attacked elements of the Shebab group who have attacked coastal villages in the Puntland region in order to destabilise the area,” Mohamud Hassan, the Puntland administration’s information minister, said at a press conference.
“Eleven of the fighters were killed in the fighting and the rest are surrounded now,” he said, adding that the clean-up operation was still ongoing.
It was not immediately possible to independently verify the information.
Residents in the Eyl district said the Shabaab arrived in the villages in fishing boats.
They seized Garmal late Tuesday and then took up positions in Suuj village where the fighting on Wednesday was “very heavy”, said Ali Weli, a resident.
“The fighters are armed with heavy machine guns, mortars and RPGs, they don’t have vehicles and heavy weaponry like the Puntland army but they are putting up fierce resistance,” he added.
Several other residents confirmed the clashes but were unable to give details or casualty estimates.
The Shebab were ousted from the capital Mogadishu in August 2011 and today concentrate on carrying out attacks from the countryside.
The group has claimed responsiblity for a string of recent attacks in Somalia, including a twin bombing in the city of Baidoa on February 28 that killed at least 30 people.
On January 15, Shbaab fighters overran a military outpost in El-Adde, southern Somalia, manned by up to 200 Kenyan soldiers deployed under AMISOM.
Shabaab fighters are targeting AMISOM because in the absence of a functioning national army, the 22 000-strong force is the only protector of the internationally-backed government that the jihadists are committed to overthrowing.
Puntland set up its own government in 1998, but unlike neighbouring Somaliland, it has not declared full independence.