Al-Shabaab fighters withdrew from the southern port city of Kismayo in Somalia, after a series of co-ordinated assualts by the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) backed by the United Nations backed African Union peacekeeping mission and troops from the transitional Somali government.
The liberation of Kismayo has weakened the Islamist fighters who lost control of the Somali capital of Mogadishu one year ago.
Somalia's al Shabaab rebels have withdrew from the southern port city of Kismayu in Somalia overnight following a joint assault from the African Union and Kenyan and Somalia government forces. However they have vowed to return. Spokesman Shiekh Ali Mohamud Rage said:
"We moved out our fighters ... from Kismayu at midnight. The enemies have not yet entered the town. Let them enter Kismayu which will soon turn into a battlefield"
Locals confirmed the militants had pulled out under the cover of darkness but said the Kenyan troops, fighting under an African Union peacekeeping force's banner, and Somali soldiers were still camped on the city's outskirts.There were reports of looting in some areas of the city.
Somalia's al-Shabab rebels confirmed they have withdrawn from their Kismayu stronghold, Reuters has reported.
But they threatened to strike back at African Union forces, who yesterday claimed the capture of the town.
Some said al-Shabab fighters have gathered in a district to the north of the city which has seen some skirmishes and shelling by AU forces.
Kenya's president Mwai Kibaki has commended Kenyan forces for their role in capturing the port town of Kismayu, according to a local newspaper. The Daily Nation quoted him as saying:
– Mwai kibaki, kenyan president
This is a game changer for the people of Somalia, it is a defining moment ...
This is the time to send a clear message to the world, that the people of Somalia have gone through a tumultuous time.
Now is the time to encourage them to embrace peace, Kenya stands to be counted as a friend of the Government and people of Somalia.
Al-Shabab is an Islamist militant group that has been active Somalia since the early 1990s. Here are some facts about the group:
- Al-Shabab means 'youth' or 'boys' in Arabic
- Ideological roots in the conservative Wahhabi branch of Sunni Islam. Aims to establish an Islamic state in Somalia.
- Took control of large parts of south and central Somalia after 1991 coup
- Behind several terrorist attacks outside Somalia, including one that killed 79 people at a football match in Uganda in 2010
- Formally merged with al-Qaeda in February
- Has been in retreat since August 2011
- Kismayo is a vital source of income as it exports charcoal from the port
The al-Qaeda-aligned militant group al-Shabab has denied reports that parts of the port city of Kismayo have fallen to African Union troops.
On its Twitter feed and in an interview with the BBC, spokesmen for the group said the city remained "firmly in the hands of the Mujahideen".
Fighting and shelling was taking place on the beaches of al-Shabab stronghold Kismayo, in southern Somalia, after an assault by Kenyan and Somali troops.
The loss of the port would deal a huge blow to al-Shabab. It is a lucrative source of revenue and a centre for operations over areas the militia has controlled in south-central Somalia since 2007.
The group, which formally merged with al-Qaeda in February, has been steadily losing its footholds under sustained pressure from African peacekeeping forces (AMISOM) and Somali government troops for the past year.
While Kismayo's recapture would go a long way towards stabilising Somalia, which has lacked effective central government for the past 20 years, it is thought that it could also embolden the militants to resort to more guerrilla-style attacks.
Kenyan army spokesman Col Cyrus Oguna said a joint operation of Kenyan and Somali government troops was launched overnight and was "basically amphibious".
– Col Cyrus Oguna
"We cannot give casualty figures at the moment, the damage has not been assessed, but I can tell you our forces are already in Kismayo."