Witnesses report significant numbers of foreign fighters on the run as jihadists abandoned the town overnight in the face of advancing government forces. “Somali Islamists flee final bastion: residents,” from Reuters:
KISMAYU, Somalia (Reuters) – Somali Islamists fled overnight from their final stronghold around the southern port town of Kismayu in the face of an advancing force of Ethiopian and government soldiers, residents said on Monday.
“The Islamic courts left Kismayu last night. They left (their front line at) Jilib as well,” a Kismayu resident told Reuters. “Nobody knows where they went. There’s a lot of confusion.”
“Fighting stopped at around 10 p.m. (1900 GMT),” a resident of nearby Jilib said. “Then there was big silence. Then the Islamic Courts just left.”
The besieged Somalia Islamic Courts Council (SICC) had rallied several thousand fighters at Jilib, just north of Kismayu on the shores of the Indian Ocean, after a retreat south 300 km (190 miles) from the capital Mogadishu.
Somali government forces and their Ethiopian allies had rained down mortars and rockets on the Islamist fighters dug in near Kismayu on Sunday to start a battle against the Islamists.
Kenya has reinforced its northern border and U.S. forces are also said to be in the region, including the sea, to prevent foreign militants aligned with the Islamists from escaping.
Including the three wanted in connection with the 1998 embassy bombings.
Government forces have entered the city in the past few hours. “Somali PM: Islamic stronghold captured,” from Associated Press:
KISMAYO, Somalia – Somali government troops backed by Ethiopian tanks and fighter jets captured the last major stronghold of a militant Islamic movement Monday, while hundreds of Islamic fighters “” many of them Arabs and South Asians “” were seen fleeing the town.
Hundreds of gunmen, who apparently deserted from the Islamic movement, began looting the warehouses where the Council of Islamic Courts had stored supplies, including weapons and ammunition.
Gangs skirmished in the streets and the southern coastal city was descending into chaos, businessman Sheik Musa Salad said.
“Everything is out of control, everyone has a gun and gangs are looting everything now that the Islamists have left,” he said.
Well-armed troops drove into Kismayo after clearing roads laced with land mines that had been left by Islamic fighters fleeing a 13-day military onslaught by government troops backed by Ethiopian tanks and MiG fighter jets.
“We have entered and captured the city,” Maj. Gen. Ahmed Musa told The Associated Press while riding aboard a truck into Kismayo, where an estimated 3,000 hardline Islamic fighters had vowed to make a last stand but melted away under artillery
Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi offered amnesty to hundreds of Islamic fighters if they gave themselves up, but made no such offer to leaders of the group. He also ordered a countrywide disarmament that goes into effect Tuesday, an immense task in Somalia, which is awash with weapons after a 15-year civil war.
“The warlord era in Somalia is now over,” Gedi said at a news conference in the recently captured capital, Mogadishu, giving a three-day deadline for the handover of all weapons.