Kenya Military Asks Aid Agencies to Return to Somalia's South
The Kenyan military says it has driven al-Shabab fighters out of parts of southern Somalia in a series of raids over the last week.
Colonel Cyrus Oguna, a spokesperson for the Kenyan Defense Forces says a total of 31 al-Shabab militants have been killed in the recent clashes, and that the military is now in control of the town of Kolbio, which he described as a major al-Shabab stronghold.
He said two Kenyan soldiers were killed during the operations, along with three Somali government soldiers.
Colonel Oguna said Kenyan forces have been able to make headway against al-Shabab due to support and intelligence from local Somali communities.
"Yes indeed, pockets of Shabab still exist, no doubt about that," said Oguna. "But the encouraging thing is that the local people are coming out to point out where these bases are and that has really paid us a lot of dividends in the sense that after being told where the bases are, our soldiers or our troops can go out there, raid, and take over those areas."
Kenyan forces entered Somalia more than a month ago in pursuit of al-Shabab militants blamed for a spate of cross-border kidnappings.
Oguna said another aspect of the operation is to provide humanitarian assistance to people in areas previously held by al-Shabab.
"But as we move forward, ladies and gentleman, we need somebody to feed the people that we have liberated," Oguna added. "So we are asking members of the international community to come in with the relief food to come and help these people, because they are free, but they are hungry."
Aid agencies operating in Somalia have been critical of the Kenyan intervention, saying that it has impeded their work.
Oxfam, an international aid organization, this week said it has had to suspend a program providing seeds and cash assistance to some 85,000 people in southern Somalia because of the operation.
The presidents of Kenya, Uganda and Somalia's Transitional Federal Government (TFG) met in Nairobi this week to pledge greater cooperation in Somalia.
Ethiopian officials also have said they will consider contributing forces to the operation.
Kenyan Foreign Affairs Assistant Director Lindsay Kiptiness said Kenya would welcome support from anyone.
"Of course, again, Ethiopia is a sovereign state and they have a right to make their own decision so whether they are going in or not. That is their own decision however, we will - we are ready, or rather, we encourage support from every corner if the intention is to defeat al-Shabab and return normalcy to Somalia," said Kiptiness.
Al-Shabab repelled an invasion of Ethiopian forces in the last decade and analysts say the presence of foreign troops on the ground in Somalia could help bolster support for the militant group.
Kiptiness said the major organization of Horn of Africa nations known as IGAD will meet at the end of the month to discuss efforts to expand the role of African Union forces in Somalia (AMISOM), which are currently limited to a peacekeeping mission in Mogadishu.
He said the hope is to have a decision by January that will allow the force, known as AMISOM, to also provide support for the Kenyan operation in southern Somalia.