Kenyan airstrikes hit suspected militant camps in Somalia
4/6/2015, 5:03 p.m.
NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) -- Kenyan warplanes bombed militant camps in Somalia, officials said Monday, following a vow by President Uhuru Kenyatta to respond "in the fiercest way possible" to a massacre of college students by al-Shabab extremists.
The airstrikes Sunday and Monday targeted the Gedo region of western Somalia, directly across the border from Kenya, said Col. David Obonyo of the Kenyan military.
The al-Shabab camps, which were used to store arms and for logistical support, were destroyed, but it was not possible to determine the number of casualties because of poor visibility, he said.
The Somalia-based militant group claimed responsibility for Thursday's attack at Garissa University College in northeastern Kenya in which militants killed 148 people, most of them students.
Hawa Yusuf, who lives in a village near the town of Beledhawa that is close to the Kenyan-Somali border, said the warplanes "were hovering around for a few minutes, then started bombing." She didn't know if there were any casualties, she said by phone.
Another resident of the village, Ali Hussein, said the airstrikes hit a grassland "where nomads often take their animals for grazing."
"We are not aware of any military camps located there. They dropped bombs on the whole area," he added.
Al-Shabab fighters often use shrubby areas to conceal fighters and vehicles.
Airstrikes and other conventional military operations have hurt al-Shabab, but analysts say better intelligence is needed to thwart an extremist group that has proven effective in infiltrating civilian populations and carrying out attacks on so-called "soft" targets in urban areas.
The extremist group said the Garissa attack was in reprisal for Kenya sending troops into Somalia in 2011 to kill its members who took part in cross-border raids and kidnappings.
Kenya's troops in Somalia are part of an African Union force and are also shoring up the beleaguered Somali government. Kenya has conducted airstrikes in Somalia before.
The four al-Shabab attackers who stormed the university were killed by Kenyan security forces, and their bullet-riddled bodies were displayed in Garissa. Five people have been arrested on suspicion of involvement in the attack, a Kenyan official said.
The al-Shabab group has struck several times on Kenyan soil, although last week's assault was the deadliest. Other attacks have occurred elsewhere in northeastern Kenya last year, as well as at the upscale Westgate shopping mall in the capital of Nairobi in which 67 people died in 2013.
The group pledged to strike again against Kenya, saying: "No amount of precaution or safety measures will be able to guarantee your safety, thwart another attack or prevent another bloodbath."
In a nationally televised address over the weekend, Kenyatta vowed that his administration would retaliate against the extremists.
"We will fight terrorism to the end," he said. "I guarantee that my administration shall respond in the fiercest way possible."
Obonyo noted that the airstrikes were "part of continuing operations, not just in response to Garissa."
Kenyatta has been under pressure from the political opposition to deal with the security threat from the Islamic extremists. In December, he finally fired the interior minister, who was ridiculed for a slow response to the Westgate attack, and accepted the resignation of the national police chief.
A leading member of parliament, Aden Duale, said Monday that work must be done to prevent Kenyan youths from becoming followers of extremism.
"Some of our youth have fallen victim to this evil ideology of al-Shabab," he said. "We will embark on an immediate, massive and sustained campaign to win back the hearts and the minds of our youth within our constituencies and the countries as whole. We recognize that some of our religious institutions have had some role in radicalization and propagation of this ideology."
He also called for the closure of the Dadaab Refugee Camp, which houses nearly 500,000 who have fled Somalia.
The camp is the center for "the training, the coordination, the assembling of terror networks," Duale alleged, and he urged that the refugees be relocated across the border.
By CHRISTOPHER TORCHIA and TOM ODULA
Associated Press writer Abdi Guled in Mogadishu, Somalia, contributed to this report.