Skip to main content

More than 10,000 Somalis flee Kismayo as troops close in on rebel stronghold

By David McKenzie, CNN
September 21, 2012 -- Updated 1533 GMT (2333 HKT)
Citizens fear the arrival of African Union forces will mean a resumption of fighting in the rebel stronghold of Kismayo.
Citizens fear the arrival of African Union forces will mean a resumption of fighting in the rebel stronghold of Kismayo.
  • Port city is one of the final bastions of Al-Shabaab, an al Qaeda-linked militant group
  • Somalis are leaving in minibuses, in trucks and on donkey carts, U.N. refugee agency says
  • Kenyan Defense Force official: Land, sea and air attacks are preceding push into Kismayo
  • Al-Shabaab denies its forces are fleeing the city

Nairobi, Kenya (CNN) -- Thousands of civilians are fleeing one of the final strongholds of an al Qaeda-linked militant group in Somalia, according to the U.N. refugee agency.

"So far this month, more than 10,000 people have fled from Kismayo fearing the resumption of fighting. Movements substantially increased on Monday and have been continuing since. Some 7,500 people fled the area in the past four days amid growing tension," UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards said in a news conference in Geneva.

The agency said that Somalis were leaving in minibuses, in trucks and on donkey carts.

Kismayo, a port city south of the capital of Mogadishu, is a key potential battleground between African Union forces and Al-Shabaab, a group that has long tried to overthrow the Somali government but has been increasingly beleaguered.

The exodus of civilians comes as AMISOM, the African Union force, announced that it had captured Janaa Cabdalla, a town about 25 miles (40 kilometers) from the center of Kismayo.

A spokesman for the Kenyan Defense Force, which makes up the majority of troops in the offensive, said they were using land, sea and air forces to attack Al-Shabaab and degrade its forces before an eventual attack on Kismayo.

"We need to consolidate or position first before we attack," Col. Cyrus Oguna said.

Oguna said that Al-Shabaab militants have been leaving Kismayo in pickup trucks in recent days, leading to speculation that some were fleeing before a major offensive. "We don't know if they are fleeing or just regrouping to mount an insurgency against our troops," he said.

Al-Shabaab has denied that anyone has left. "It is blatant lies," the group said on its Twitter feed.

Military analysts believe, however, that Al-Shabaab is militarily cornered. After losing control of much of Mogadishu last year, Kismayo became even more critical to the militant group. Al-Shabaab uses the port to garner much needed tax revenue from the illegal charcoal trade and smuggling operations.

Since crossing into Somalia in October, Kenyan commanders and politicians have stated more than once that capturing Kismayo was the ultimate aim of their operation, saying several times that an attack would be "imminent."

Bad weather, operational difficulties and costs, and a cautious approach have all played into the more deliberate nature of the campaign.

Aid officials worry that the push into Kismayo could have a severe impact on civilians.

In an apparent attempt to ease those fears, the African Union put out a statement this week saying it was committed to "minimizing the impact of its operations."

"AMISOM takes responsibility for the safety of the people of Somalia very seriously and fully understands its obligations to conduct operations without causing undue risk to the local population," said Boubacar Gaoussou Diarra, an African Union special representative.

Part of complete coverage on
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 1526 GMT (2326 HKT)
Advocates say the exam includes unnecessarily invasive and irrelevant procedures -- like a so-called "two finger" test.
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 0009 GMT (0809 HKT)
Supplies of food, clothing and fuel are running short in Damascus and people are going hungry as the civil war drags on.
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 1801 GMT (0201 HKT)
Supporters of Richard III want a reconstruction of his head to bring a human aspect to a leader portrayed as a murderous villain.
February 5, 2013 -- Updated 1548 GMT (2348 HKT)
Robert Fowler spent 130 days held hostage by the same al Qaeda group that was behind the Algeria massacre. He shares his experience.
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 0507 GMT (1307 HKT)
As "We are the World" plays, a video shows what looks like a nuclear attack on the U.S. Jim Clancy reports on a bizarre video from North Korea.
The relationship is, once again, cold enough to make Obama's much-trumpeted "reset" in Russian-U.S. relations seem thoroughly off the rails.
Ten years on, what do you think the Iraq war has changed in you, and in your country? Send us your thoughts and experiences.
February 5, 2013 -- Updated 1215 GMT (2015 HKT)
Musician Daniela Mercury has sold more than 12 million albums worldwide over a career span of nearly 30 years.
Photojournalist Alison Wright travelled the world to capture its many faces in her latest book, "Face to Face: Portraits of the Human Spirit."
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 0006 GMT (0806 HKT)
Europol claims 380 soccer matches, including top level ones, were fixed - as the scandal widens, CNN's Dan Rivers looks at how it's done.
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 1237 GMT (2037 HKT)
That galaxy far, far away is apparently bigger than first thought. The "Star Wars" franchise will get two spinoff movies, Disney announced.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 2327 GMT (0727 HKT)
It's an essential part of any trip, an activity we all take part in. Yet almost none of us are any good at it. Souvenir buying is too often an obligatory slog.