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Africa

AMISOM troops in control of Kismayo

African troops, allied within the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), have taken full control of Kismayo in Somalia, the last stronghold of al-Shabab Islamists.

After weeks of fighting and several premature reports that al-Shabab's last stronghold in Somalia had fallen, heavily-armed Somali government troops and Kenyan units of AMISOM have now seized control of the port city.                   

Previously they had occupied central positions in the city which served the Islamists as an economic center.  Many fled as Kenyan fighter jets launched attacks on their remaining bases..

A map of Somalia

The port of Kismayo is now under the total control of AMISOM troops

With Kenyan and Somali troops now in control, the danger posed by the al-Qaeda- linked Islamists has become less acute but has not been entirely eliminated.

Kismayo under al-Shabab

The United States has congratulated AMISOM on its success in rooting out  al-Shabab from Kismayo. The US secretary of state in charge of African affairs, Johnnie Carson, said the US believed "this will help to bring about a return to stability to somalia and reduce over time the terrorist threat to Somalia and neighboring states."

Kismayo was not only the political nerve center of the rebels, but also an important source of income. Revenue from charcoal exports to Saudi Arabia financed their activities at this crucial port that was constructed in 1964 with American aid.

A street scene in Somalia Photo:Omar Faruk REUTERS/

Somalis have seen little peace in the last two decades

According to agency reports, many residents of Kismayo have welcomed the arrival of government troops in their city, largely because the Islamists ruled with an iron fist and with an ultraconservative interpretation of the Koran.

A strict dress code was introduced as well as a ban on televised football games or "Western" ringtones on cellphones.  According to eyewitnesses, there were also stonings and public executions. Most analysts agree, however, that the fall of Kismayo will not necessarily improve the security situation.

 End of al-Shabab era?   

Not all the rebels have left Kismayo in order to seek refuge in the jungle between the city and Afmadow or in other towns north of the port city like Jamame and Kabsuma.

Small groups are believed to have remained in Kismayo, where they are prereparing to launch guerrilla attacks against the AMISOM troops.

Reuters news agency reported that one man who was loudly celebrating the departure of al-Shabab fighters from the city was shot dead, killed by several shots to the head.

"We cannot say at this point that this is the end of al-Shabab in Somalia," said journalist Mohammed Chine in the Somali capital, Mogadishu. "They still have an arsenal of heavy weapons. I am afraid of another guerrilla war," the DW correspondent said.

armed al-Shabab members on the back of pickup trucks. Photo/Farah Abdi Warsameh

The al-Shabab islamists have been kicked out of their last stronghold

Nairobi-based Somalia expert Rashid Abdi agrees that the fall of Kismayo does not mean that al-Shabaab will give up their armed struggle. "On the contrary, they will continue to be a great nuisance for a very long time," he said.

Guerilla tactics

Abdi and other Somali experts fear that the al-Shabab fighters, will resort to guerilla tactics like suicide bombings, assassinations and remote-detonated bombs, rather than engaging in direct combat with AMISOM troops.

A foretaste of such tactics was an assassination attempt on the new Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud shortly after his election, when a suicide bomber detonated a bomb at a press conference he was conducting.

Somalia's President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud Photo Feisal Omar REUTERS/

Somalia's new leader Hassan Sheikh Mohamud has many challenges ahead of him including insecurity

A second uncertainty is the notorious rivalry between Somali clan militias who have reduced much of the country to ruin over for the past 21 years.

They have taken advantage of the power vacuum and are said to be patrolling some suburbs. There are also reports of looting and revenge killings in the city.

The fall of Kismayo could turn out to be a pyrrhic victory for the newly-elected president if he doesn't succeed in convincing residents that the situation will improve .But President Mohamud is still largely pre-occupied with forming his cabinet and finalising the new draft constitution.

Are Kenyan troops liberators or occupiers?
 

It will largely depend on the behavior of Kenyan troops whether the they will be regarded by Kismayo residents as liberators or occupiers.  Ethiopian troops who liberated Mogadishu from rebels in 2006 perpetrated acts iof violence against civilians, theerby turning the Somalis against them.

Al-Shabab has repeatedly carried out revenge attacks on Kenyan institutions. Recently, suspected al-Shabab fighters killed two Kenyan policemen at the border town of Garissa.  A police station was also attacked.

The porous border with Kenya is difficult to control, and both US intelligence and Kenyan authorities fear further attacks in the centers of Nairobi and Mombasa.

The battle for Kismayo was the first time participants in an African conflict made extensive use of social media for propaganda purposes.  Both the Kenyan army and the rebels used twitter to inform their supporters about their alleged successes. 

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