The port city of Kismayo, Somalia (map) is one of the rebel movement Al Shabab’s last strongholds. In June, Kenyan leaders vowed that their soldiers, who have been fighting Al Shabab inside Somali territory since last October, would move to take Kismayo by August. Now August has come, and the assault will reportedly begin soon:
Kenyan troops, now in Afmadow are expected to advance towards Kismayu, probably using Biibi, a town located 75 kilometres from Kismayu, as a forward operations base.
They are expected to fight alongside Ethiopian units and allied militia. The Ethiopian air force may also take part in the air bombardment.
Sources familiar with military thinking suggest that the initial air strikes would target Al-Shabaab command and control sites, troop concentrations and convoys and defensive fortifications.
Two potential targets are Kismayu Stadium, believed to be a key logistical and operational hub, and Jilib Beach District, where senior Al-Shabaab commanders are thought to live.
More details at the link, and more background on key commanders and decision-makers here. As of last night, sources on Twitter were saying the attack had already begun.
The conquest of Kismayo would build on military gains that the African Union Mission in Somalia and other foreign forces have made in the country in recent months. Kismayo’s significance lies partly in the revenue its port generates for Al Shabab, and its loss could weaken the movement even further. The United Nations Monitoring Group on Somalia wrote in its report in July (pp. 11-12),
Al-Shabaab’s fortunes have declined dramatically, ceding much of southern Somalia to the forces of AMISOM, Kenya and Ethiopia, and their local Somali allies. The loss of so much territory has also deprived Al-Shabaab of some lucrative border taxation points, and a Security Council ban on the importation of Somali charcoal threatens to further erode the group’s income. An anticipated joint offensive towards Kismaayo would also deprive Al-Shabaab of its single most important source of revenue and its principal training bases. Confronted by such pressures, serious rifts
have emerged within the group’s leadership, threatening to produce a formal rupture, and Al-Shabaab fighters have begun to migrate northwards towards Puntland, Somaliland and Yemen. A steady trickle of foreign fighters is reported to
be leaving Somalia.
From what I understand, many analysts expect Kenyan forces to succeed in their effort to conquer Kismayo.
One key question that surfaces in the Monitoring Group report and other analysis is whether Somalia’s government, currently in a transition set to culminate with presidential elections by August 20, can deliver effective governance to these reconquered areas. Another key question is what will become of Al Shabab – fragmentation, dissipation, relocation, reorientation? The two questions are, of course, interrelated; how well Somali authorities perform on the governance front will affect the choices Al Shabab makes, and shape the options available to it.