Kenyan fighter jets killed at least 60 Islamist al-Shebab insurgents in southern Somalia in the latest air strike on insurgent positions, officials said on Saturday.
“Provisional casualties are that al-Shebab lost 60 or more fighters, and more than 50 were injured,” Kenyan army spokesman Colonel Cyrus Oguna told reporters.
On Thursday, the African Union asked the United Nations to authorize an increase of its peacekeeping force in war-torn Somalia by 5,700 to 17,700 amid mounting attacks by Islamist rebels.
Monica Juma, Kenya’s ambassador to the U.N., made the announcement. The African force, called AMISOM, has been functioning under U.N. mandate since 2007 in the lawless Horn of Africa nation.
“The highlights were: the need to increase the AMISOM troops from 12,000 to 17,700, the need to fast track the creation of an administrative unit in the liberated areas,” Juma said, after presiding over a meeting of the AU’s Peace and Security Council in the Ethiopian capital.
She also highlighted the need for “logistical support in order to optimize the capability of the AMISOM troops,” and to beef up the “capability of the TFG (transitional government forces) and allied forces in order ... to begin to create a Somalian security force.”
The AMISOM currently comprises Djiboutian, Ugandan and Burundian soldiers, who have been deployed since 2007 to protect the Western-backed government from the Shebab in the war-shattered capital.
The hardline insurgents control large parts of southern Somalia but are facing increasing pressure from regional armies and government forces, with the rebels leaving fixed positions in Mogadishu in favor of guerrilla tactics.
The AU Commissioner for Peace and Security Ramtane Lamamra said the African forces were now in a position to quell both the Shebab and the pirates.
“Whatever investment the international community is ready to make for Somalia, it would be really serving both causes. And in the same time assist nation building and a post-conflict peace consolidation,” he said.
Meanwhile, Kenyan police seized landmines and homemade explosive devices Friday in Dadaab, the world’s largest refugee camp and site of several attacks and blasts in recent months.
Dadaab, some 100 kilometres (60 miles) from Somalia, is in a border region that has seen a surge in attacks since Nairobi sent troops into its neighbor in October to battle the Shebab insurgents.
The attacks are often blamed by the authorities on sympathizers of al-Shebab militants.
Gunmen seized two Spaniards working for Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) from Dadaab in October and are thought to have taken them to Somalia.
In October, Kenya sent tanks and troops into southern Somalia to fight the Shebab militia which Nairobi blames for a series of cross-border attacks and kidnappings of foreigners.
Ethiopian soldiers were reported to have crossed into western Somalia in November, although Addis Ababa has denied its forces crossed the border.
Eritrea has been accused of backing the hardline al-Shebab, although it too denies any involvement in the conflict.
Somalia has been ravaged by a nearly uninterrupted civil war since the 1991 ouster of president Siad Barre sparked vicious bloodletting by rival militias fighting for power.
In the latest move to return stability, Somali leaders in September signed a U.N.-backed agreement to improve security, adopt a new constitution and hold polls by August 2012 when the life of the current transitional government expires.