NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — The Kenyan Navy shelled Somalia's port town of Kismayo, the remaining significant stronghold of al-Qaida-linked militants, in preparation for the ground forces to capture the town, a Kenyan military official said Tuesday.
Col. Cyrus Oguna said that seven people believed to be members of the al-Shabab militia group were killed in the shelling that occurred Saturday and Monday and that targeted an arms cache, a mounted gun position and a roadblock set up by the militants.
Oguna says Kenyan ground troops are moving closer to Kismayo in preparation of an assault to take over the port town.
Earlier this year Kenyan commanders vowed to take Kismayo by August but the movement of the troops was bogged down by the need to attend to people in the towns they liberated from al-Shabab, Kenyan officials say.
Last week, Kenyan troops took over the town of Miido. Oguna said the troops are now about 90 kilometers (55.93 miles) from Kismayo.
Al-Shabab militants are waging an insurgency against the U.N.-backed government that is being bolstered by African Union troops, including Kenyan forces.
The Ugandan military forms the bulk of the African Union forces in Somalia. Ugandan and Burundian forces pushed al-Shabab out of Mogadishu, the capital, about a year ago. Kenya and Burundi have also dispatched to troops to fight al-Shabab, which neighboring countries view as a regional threat. The Islamist militants are now concentrated in Kismayo in the southern coast town.
Somalia has not had a fully functioning government since clan-based warlords' toppled dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991, but slow progress is being made. The adoption of a new constitution was the first step last month in bringing about political change. A new parliament and speaker were chosen recently and those leaders are to vote on a new president by Sept 10.