Somali government forces and Kenyan troops are advancing into southern Somali areas in a bid to clear the al-Shabab militants from the region, Press TV reports. Somali government forces and Kenya troops launched an operation on Saturday, aiming to gain control of the town of Kismayo and the remaining key areas of the region. Kismayo is a strategically important port city on Somalia's Indian Ocean coast located some 500 kilometers (310 miles) south of capital, Mogadishu.
Reports say that the residents of Kismayo have repeatedly accused al-Shabab of forcing civilians to join them.“People are fleeing from their homes while al-Shabab is forcing civilians, especially students to join the fight,” a resident, who requested to remain anonymous, told Press TV. Kenya dispatched soldiers over its border into the conflict-plagued Somalia last October to pursue al-Shabab militants, which it accuses of being behind the kidnapping of several foreigners on its territory. Somalia has not had an effective central government since 1991, when warlords overthrew former dictator Mohamed Siad Barre. The weak Western-backed transitional government in Mogadishu has been battling al-Shabab fighters for the past five years, and is propped up by a strong African Union force from Uganda, Burundi, and Djibouti. Kenyan Defense Forces (KDF) officially joined the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) on July 6 in a bid to secure peace and stability in the neighboring war- ravaged country. Integrating 4664 Kenyan personnel into AMISOM, the move brought the AMISOM force strength to slightly over 17,000 troops. Somalia is one of the countries generating the highest number of refugees and internally-displaced people in the world. AMB/TNP/JR