World Bulletin / News Desk
Somalia's al Shabaab retreated from the southern port of Kismayu overnight, abandoning the last major bastion of their five-year revolt to an offensive by African Union and Somali government troops.
The loss of Kismayu a day after it was attacked by Kenyan and Somali soldiers backed by air strikes is a major blow to the insurgents, weakening morale and depriving them of revenue from taxing local businesses and shipping.
"We moved out our fighters ... from Kismayu at midnight," al Shabaab spokesman, Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage, told Reuters on Saturday, promising to strike back. "The enemies have not yet entered the town. Let them enter Kismayu which will soon turn into a battlefield."
The Kenya Defence Force (KDF) said two regional insurgent commanders, Sheikh Hassan Yakub and Sheikh Abdikarim Adow, were killed in air strikes in the city late on Friday and that another five insurgents were killed in combat. Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab, al Shabaab's spokesman for military operations, told Reuters the fighters had suffered no losses.
Al Shabaab has pulled out of a number of urban areas including the capital, Mogadishu, in recent months under pressure from African Union (AU) peacekeeping forces and the Somali government.
The government in Mogadishu said Kismayu was now under its control and called on residents to co-operate with security agencies and AU forces in improving security.
Kenyan military spokesman Col. Cyrus Oguna declined to comment on the statement by the Somali government, saying Kenyan troops, fighting under the AMISOM banner, were yet to take control of the port facilities.
Locals confirmed the fighters had pulled out under the cover of darkness but said Kenyan and Somali soldiers were still camped on the city's outskirts.
Residents said the fighters who abandoned Kismayu had moved to jungles that lie between Kismayu and Afmadow to the north, as well as to other towns north of the port city like Jamame and Kabsuma.