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Shebab Islamists abandon last Somali stronghold

Rebel al Shebab forces say they have withdrawn from Somalia's southern port city of Kismayo, their last urban stronghold, a day after a seaborne assault by African Union troops. The group says it is a tactial retreat.

FILE - In this Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2011 file photo, two Kenyan army soldiers shield themselves from the downdraft of a Kenyan air force helicopter as it flies away from their base near the seaside town of Bur Garbo, Somalia. Kenya's military said Friday, Sept. 28, 2012 that its troops attacked Kismayo, the last remaining port city held by al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab insurgents in Somalia, during an overnight attack involving a beach landing. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis, File)

Somalia Soldaten

One day after Kenyan and African Union troops launched an assault on rebel al Shebab forces in Somalia, a spokesman for the group told the Reuters and AFP news agencies on Saturday that the rebel fighters had made a "tactical retreat" but would strike back.

Residents confirmed that the rebel radio station, Radio Andalus, was off the air on Saturday and that Islamist fighters appeared to have moved outside the city under the cover of darkness.

There were reports of looting in some city areas.

Map of Somalia, Kenya and Uganda in English

Kismayo lies in southern Somalia

Shelling had subsided after fighting broke out earlier in the day when Kenyan officials declared its troops had approached Kismayo from the sea as well as from the north and south.

Local elder Ali Hussein said, "Al Shabaab has not perished, so the worry is what next."

Kismayo strategic location

Kismayo had been a key bastion for al Shehab since the African Union force in Somalia (AMISOM) recaptured most of the capital Mogadishu, 300 kilometers (186 miles) to the north, last year.

Observers say even with the loss of Kismayo, rebels could still remain a threat by using guerrilla tactics. In 2008, al Shebab seized Kismayo from Somalia's then weak transitional government. At that time, the rebels controlled up to 80 percent of Somalia.

The UN refugee agency predicts 13,000 people have fled Kismayo since the beginning of September when Kenyan forces began targeting al Shehab's positions.

Kismayo rebel supply route

In New York for the UN General Assembly, Kenya's deputy prime minister, Musalia Mudavadi, said the entry of Kenyan forces via Kismayo's port would stop the rebel's from using the port to receive ammunition.

Mohamud celebrates victory. Photo: REUTERS/Feisal Omar

Somalia's newly elected president survived a bomb attack

"This is a major blow to them and we think it's positive for the region and for Somalia," Mudavadi said.

In recent months, other key Shebab-held towns of Afgoye, Baidoa and the port of Marka fell because of intervention by AU forces, which also includes Ethiopian troops.

For the past 20 years, Somalia had been largely lawless. Mogadishu has endured several fatal suicide attacks since September 10 when a new national assembly elected Somalia's new president Hassan Sheikh Mohamud.

He survived a suicide bomb attack on his hotel, claimed by al Shebab, just two days after his election win.

ipj/jlw (AFP, Reuters)

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