Somalia Deploys Government Soldiers in Captured Former al-Qaeda Stronghold

(Bloomberg) - Somalia deployed government soldiers in the center of the port city of Kismayo, three days after African Union forces captured the stronghold of al-Qaeda-backed Islamist militants, an eyewitness said.

“Armed government forces together with armored vehicles have been seen in the city,” Ibrahim Abdi Sheikh, a businessman in Kismayo, said in a phone interview today. General Ismail Sahardiid, the general commander of Somali forces in the southern Juba region, didn’t answer his mobile phone when called for comment today.

African forces seized Kismayo on Sept. 28 in what Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki said marked a turning point in the war against Islamist militants who have been seeking the ouster of Somalia’s United Nations-backed government since at least 2006. Kenyan forces entered Somalia last year following attacks on tourists and aid workers in Kenya and are now fighting under an African Union mandate.

Kismayo was a strategic target because it’s been a key supply route for al-Shabaab, an affiliate of al-Qaeda, and a source of taxes the group collects, according to the UN. Income from Somali ports has generated as much as $50 million a year for al-Shabaab from illegal trading, the UN Monitoring Group on Somalia said in a report last year.

African Union forces haven’t been deployed in Kismayo yet, Colonel Ali Hamud Aden, a spokesman for the African Union Mission in Somalia, said by phone today from Mogadishu.