- 200 new al shabaab recruits possibly being moved from Kismayo in anticipation of attack
- 150 had been sent to Dhobley from Middle Juba
Somalia's Transitional Federal Government is preparing a new assault to seize more towns in regions bordering Kenya, while militant Islamist group al-Shabaab is sending hundreds of new recruits from its Kismayo stronghold to stop the rot, sources told Somalia Report.
The TFG's Kenyan-trained forces and local militia have been gaining ground along the border with Kenya, most recently seizing Dhobley in Lower Juba region. Locals say that Kenyan tanks and helicopters have backed TFG forces and the Raskamboni militia in fierce fighting that has left more than 20 al-Shabaab fighters dead and dozens wounded, including a senior commander.
A delegation of ministers, including deputy minister of defense Abdirashid Mohamed Hidig, this week paid the first visit in years to Gedo and Lower Juba regions, in a move seen as motivating troops and showing the gains made in recent months. One of the delegation, who did not wish to be named, said the plan now was to tighten the government's grip on the region.
"The government will take over Afmadow, Qoqani and Tabto in Lower Juba, and Bardera, Garbahare and Burduba in Gedo," he told Somalia Report. "That is our next plan, because it will be difficult for us to hold the towns we have taken if we do not spread our control."
"The offensive has bases and targets which I am not going to outline, but we are on the move to liberate the whole region," he added.
However, a local journalist in the port town of Kismayo, whose wanted to remain anonymous for security reasons, said that al-Shabaab is sending out forces from its stronghold to halt the advance. Kismayo, in Lower Juba, around 110 km from Afmadow, is a key town for the insurgents, as it provides as vital sea supply route.
The journalist said he knew of 200 new recruits that were being moved from Kismayo, while 150 had been sent to Dhobley from Middle Juba.
Rumours have been circulating in African Union peacekeeping circles that the TFG is aiming to take Kismayo, relying on the offensive in the border regions to draw off forces and make the crucial town easier to take.
Mohamed Mohamed, one of the TFG's Kenya-trained forces, said that other factors could slow up the advance, particularly an increasing al-Shabaab reliance on landmines as it loses ground.
"There are fears of landmines and the current drought is causing a problem ... but were are ready to start taking new areas," he said.