French forces join Somali fighting
Mogadishu - Kenya on Sunday said that France's navy bombed a town in Somalia near a stronghold of al-Shabaab, the first confirmation that a Western military force is involved in the latest push against the Islamist militia.
Thousands of people, meanwhile, fled a camp for the displaced near Somalia's capital on Sunday, fearing an imminent clash between African Union peacekeepers and the al-Qaeda-linked militants who are trying to demonstrate their strength amid an assault on two fronts.
In the country's south, others braced for fierce battles as Kenyan soldiers closed in on a militant-held town in their weeklong effort to defeat the al-Shabaab group blamed for suicide bombings, kidnapping foreigners and killing famine victims.
Kenyan forces last week moved into Somalia to fight al-Shabaab, and on Sunday confirmation emerged that the East African country is receiving help in the fight from a Western power.
Kenyan military spokesperson Maj Emmanuel Chirchir said the French navy bombed the town of Kuday near the southern al-Shabaab stronghold of Kismayo on Saturday night. A Nairobi-based diplomat told The Associated Press last week that France was carrying out military attacks in Somalia; French officials in Paris denied French forces were carrying out any attacks.
US officials told AP last week that the United States had been pressuring Kenya to "do something" in response to a string of security incidents along the Kenya-Somalia border, but that Kenya's invasion of Somalia took the US by surprise.
The US has carried out precision strikes against militants in Somalia in recent years, but has not been involved in any wider military action since pulling out forces shortly after the 1993 military battle in Mogadishu known as "Black Hawk Down".
Chirchir said fighting was a likely to occur in the town of Afmadow "very soon". Afmadow lies near Kismayo.
"Most likely man-to-man battles will occur in Afmadow," he told The Associated Press. "That is one of the areas we really want to inflict trauma and damage on the al-Shabaab basically to reduce their effectiveness completely so that they do not exist as a force."
Hundreds of residents were fleeing Afmadow on Sunday in anticipation of fighting. Chirchir said al-Shabaab were regrouping in the town of Bula Haji to face the Kenyan troops.