Several hundred Kenyan troops have been deployed and are now deep into Somalia, which has had no central government for the past two decades, and will soon likely face off against al-Shabab militants following a number of abductions in northern Kenya.
The troops have ventured around 65 miles into Somalia, according to reports, while warplanes bombed several sites held by the al-Shabab militants who are believed to have ties with al-Qaeda and Somali pirates. Kenyan forces were joined by pro-government Somali fighters after they entered the southern part of the country on Sunday.
In the coming days, Kenyan forces will likely see battle as they approach the town of Afmadow, which is around 400 miles south of Mogadishu, the capital.
Al-Shabab has begun to prepare for the coming battle, mobilizing several hundred fighters and confiscating vehicles to take them to the town, reported Kenya’s The Nation.
Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage, a spokesperson for the group, said Kenya’s army is not battle-tested and will “feel the pain of bullets.”
Confirming that troops have entered southern Somalia and warplanes carried out airstrikes, Rage said Kenya will suffer the consequences for declaring war on the group and threatened to carry out reprisal attacks.
“If they continue this way, they will regret and feel the consequences back home,” he told a news conference, according to Kenya’s Capital FM News radio.
“Kenya has peace, its cities have tall buildings and business is booming there, while Somalia is in chaos,” he added. “If your government ignores our calls to stop its aggression on Somali soil, we will strike at the heart of your interests.”
Despite the threats, Kenya said it can sustain a military operation against al-Shabab to prevent further attacks.
“The Kenya government is taking robust measures to protect and preserve the integrity of the country,” Defense Minister Yusuf Haji told a parliamentary committee on Monday, according to Capital FM.
Haji cited a number of al-Shabab attacks carried out on Kenyan soil including the kidnapping and killing of military officers.
At the same time, Kenya will also deploy security forces to protect aid workers and foreigners, said Internal Security Minister George Saitoti.
“Security officers have been instructed to offer security escort to foreigners working in NGOs in the affected areas in the Northeastern and the upper coast region of Hola, Tana River, and Lamu,” Saitoti said, according to the radio station.
Several Westerners, including a British woman and a French woman, have been abducted in northern Kenya in recent months by suspected militants.
Two relief workers from Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF) were kidnapped while working at the massive Dadaab refugee camp in northern Kenya, where many people have fled due to widespread famine on the Horn of Africa.
In a statement last week, MSF said it has not been able to contact the two Spanish aid workers, setting up a crisis team to deal with the situation.
However, it is not immediately clear if al-Shabab carried out the abductions, as there are a number of militia groups and clans throughout the country. Since the Somali civil war 20 years ago, Somalia has essentially remained splintered, while al-Shabab controls a large portion of the country.Some reports have said that pirates, who have increasingly launched brazen attacks in 2011, may have carried out the kidnappings.