Kibaki gets ahead of news on Kismayu, as Kenyan forces conduct assault from beach [updated Sat. Sept. 29]

[Update Sept. 29–Reuters reports that al-Shabab announced they had pulled most of their fighters out of Kismayu overnight Friday, continuing the pattern of avoiding heavy direct fighting.]

Friday afternoon, Sept. 28: BBC News–Somali militants hold Kismayo under Kenyan force attack:

Kenyan and Somali forces launched a beach assault on al-Shabab’s last major stronghold, but by late afternoon were still some miles from the city centre.

Clashes were reported just north of the city and residents report Kenyan shelling of al-Shabab positions.

Kenyan troops are part of a force trying to wrest control of the country for the new UN-backed president.

The BBC’s Gabriel Gatehouse in Nairobi says it is probably a matter of when, not if Kismayo falls. . . .

Simultaneously in the Daily Nation, published hours earlier: “Kibaki commends Kenyan forces over Kismayu victory”:

President Kibaki has commended the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) for capturing Kismayu terming it a defining moment for Somalia and the region.

The seizure of the port city in southern Somalia is a “game changer”, the President who is also the Commander in-Chief of Kenya Defence Forces said Friday.

“This is a game changer for the people of Somalia, it is a defining moment.

Here is The Standard story: “How KDF took Kismayu”.

It is interesting to note in the context of an amphibious assault that as I understand it, the Kenyan Navy, unlike the ground forces, is not directly integrated into the AMISOM forces.

Update: From Jeffrey Gettleman’s New York Times report, also from Nairobi:

On Friday evening, one Kismayu resident said that the environment inside the town was “very tense” and that “we don’t know where to hide.” The resident, who did not want to be identified, said the Kenyan army was rapidly approaching but that the Shabab were still in control of the city center.

Some analysts predicted that once nightfall came, the Shabab would sneak away under the cover of darkness. Other analysts said that, if cornered, the Shabab fighters who remained in the town might stand and fight.

Kenya’s invasion of Somalia is the most aggressive step it has ever taken against another country. Kenyan officials said they needed to go into Somalia to protect their borders after a wave of kidnappings, and the first troops rolled in last year. But they have also acknowledged that Somalia’s relentless chaos was hindering Kenya’s fast-growing economy and that the invasion was a long-planned objective to secure the coastline and allow Kenya to move ahead with an ambitious, new, multibillion dollar port on the Indian Ocean, not far from the Somali border.

It is not clear what may happen next. Setting up an inclusive, widely accepted local administration for Kismayu will be crucial for any pacification efforts. But Kismayu has always been a tricky place to rule .  .  .  .

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