Military tells residents to avoid al-Shabaab camps.
Kenyan forces plan to carry out air strikes on Islamist rebel camps across southern and central Somalia to destroy weapons the military says were flown into the anarchic Horn of Africa country in the past two days.
Use of Twitter
Military spokesman Major Emmanuel Chirchir used Twitter to warn residents of 10 towns across Somalia that they would be “under attack continuously.”
He told the Guardian that residents should stay away from al-Shabaab camps in the towns because Kenyan forces, which crossed the border into Somalia in mid-October to battle the militants, would be attacking soon.
The locations include the port town of Kismayo, an al-Shabaab stronghold, Baidoa, Afmadow and Afgoye, near the capital Mogadishu.
Chirchir said two consignments of weapons had been flown into Baidoa, 270km north-west of Mogadishu, on Monday and Tuesday (October 31 and November 1.)
He said he did not know where the weapons came from but that they were destined for the southern frontline where Kenyan and Somali government forces, as well as allied militias, are trying to push al-Shabaab forces from the territory they control.
“If it is confirmed that a particular (al-Shabaab) camp has received those weapons, we'll get there,” he said.
“We are asking the people of Somalia to avoid being close to al-Shabaab, especially the camps,” he said.
Several civilians were killed on Sunday during a Kenyan air strike on the town of Jilib in southern Somalia. The Kenyan military said the deaths were caused when rebels drove a vehicle with an anti-aircraft gun, which had been hit in the bombardment, into a camp for displaced people where it exploded. An investigation is under way.
Kenya wants to push al-Shabaab, which is linked to al-Qaeda and is fighting the weak Somali government, away from its borders. It blames the militants for a series of kidnappings and cross-border incursions that threaten Kenyan security and its lucrative tourism industry.
Some of the towns listed by Chirchir are north of the area into which Kenyan forces are advancing. Chirchir said Kenyan forces would coordinate their actions with the 9,000-strong African Union Amisom force stationed in Mogadishu.
A strategic Kenyan objective is to capture Kismayo, which is a key supply route and source of funds for the rebels.
Call to international community
Kenya and the Somali government have called on the international community to provide logistical and financial support to blockade the port as they attempt to force out al-Shabaab.
Al-Shabaab, which means “youth” in Arabic, controls large areas of southern Somalia where it has imposed a harsh form of sharia law. The rebels have carried out beheadings and cross-amputations, and are also blamed for hampering relief efforts for hundreds of thousands of Somalis facing hunger because of this year's severe drought.
A Guardian investigation has revealed that al-Qaeda operatives are distributing aid and cash to drought victims in southern Somalia.
International aid agency Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said that the numbers of Somalis fleeing to neighbouring Ethiopia had risen sharply and that the capacity to deliver aid needed to be rapidly increased. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2011