by DAVID AXE
By air, land and sea the U.S.-backed Kenyan military has liberated the port of Kismayo, the last major stronghold of the Al Shabab militant group in southern Somalia.
Six months after Ugandan and Burundian peacekeepers, also with American support, recaptured the capital city of Mogadishu from Al Shabab, the insurgent and terror group with ties to Al Qaeda is scattered and discredited. Al Shabab spokesman Sheik Ali Mohamed Rage said the militants were in “tactical retreat.”
What happens next is unclear. Somalia hasn’t possessed a strong central government since the 1991 overthrow of dictator Siad Barre. The current administration, heavily reliant on foreign assistance, is weak and mostly confined to the capital.
The Kenyan assault was codenamed Operation Sledgehammer. At 10:00 at night local time on Friday, seven Kenyan navy ships began landing “terrified” army troops north of the city, according to Somalia Report. The flotilla included the gun-armed offshore patrol vessels Jasiri (150 meters) and Nyayo II (55 meters).
Somalia Report claims Al Shabab’s remaining fighters in Kismayo fled by dhow, a type of small fishing boat.
The amphibious assault reflects months of preparation. Kenya invaded southern Somalia last fall with tanks, helicopters, Northrop F-5 jet fighters and 17,000 troops. The armored thrust stalled before reaching Kismayo. Kenya claims to have killed 700 militants at a cost of three dozen of its own soldiers and two F-5s.
The U.S. State Department said it was surprised by the Kenyan invasion, but quickly offered its support. “We are talking with the Kenyans right now to figure out where they need help,” said Scott Gration, U.S. ambassador in Nairobi, said in October.
Kenya had already benefited from U.S. military training and material assistance; that aid apparently increased after the invasion. If the American support for the Ugandan and Burundian peacekeepers is any indication, the Kenyans have received intelligence, combat training, fuel and spare parts via State Department and Pentagon channels, often with U.S. private military companies handling the transactions.
In recent months Kenya refocused its military forces on Kismayo. Somali militias loyal to Kenya secured towns surrounding the port. Bombardment by U.S.-made Kenyan F-5 fighters had begun in the fall but escalated. Kenyan helicopters — Mi-17s and MD-500s are visible in photos — fired rockets at Al Shabab positions. Navy ships converged on the port and fired at targets on land and at sea, accidentally killing several fishermen and civilians on shore.
Special Operations Forces — whether Kenyan or American, is not clear — infiltrated ahead of the invasion force. Drone aircraft gathered intelligence.
The Operation Sledgehammer landing resulted in no casualties to the Kenyan force. Now in possession of the town, the Kenyans will likely move quickly to turn over administration to local authorities under the central government. Somalis have limited patience for foreign occupation.