Kenyan ground forces captured the Somali rebel redoubt of Afmadow a military spokesman said, and were closing in on the port city of Kismayu, the hub of al Shabaab militants’ southern operations.
“(We have) secured the town of Afmadow,” Major Emmanuel Chirchir said on the social media site Twitter.
Kenya sent troops across the border into Somalia in October, blaming al Qaeda-linked insurgents there for a string of kidnappings on Kenyan soil that threatened to harm the east African country’s tourism sector, Reuters reports.
The Kenyan incursion is part of a three-pronged offensive against the Islamist al Shabaab, who are also battling Ethiopian troops in central Somalia and an African Union force near the capital, Mogadishu.
The coordinated military push against al Shabaab has seen the militants surrender chunks of territory over the past nine months. Kismayu, where most of the group’s foreign fighters have historically been based, remains its most significant bastion.
Al Shabaab, which formally merged with al Qaeda earlier this year, has responded by resorting more to guerrilla-style tactics such as suicide bombings and hit-and-run grenade attacks.
On Tuesday, Kenyan battleships patrolling off Kismayu struck al Shabaab positions in the port city after the rebels fired anti-aircraft guns at them.
Chirchir said 11 rebel fighters had been killed by shells from the warship.