Kenyan security forces have killed 10 suspected al-Shabaab Islamist militants and arrested 36 others over the last nine months since launching an operation against the insurgents on the country's coast, the head of the operation said on Friday.
Somalia's al-Shabaab have claimed a series of attacks in the past three years in Kenya that have killed hundreds of people, including a raid at Garissa University College last year where gunmen killed 147 people. Several raids targeted coastal sites, and Kenyan officers say they have been launched from hideouts in the Boni national forest in Kenya's Lamu County.
James Ole Serian, head of the joint army and police operation, said troops had swept the forest and destroyed hideouts used by the militants, who say they target Kenya for sending troops into Somalia with an African force fighting al-Shabaab there.
"We are having a permanent base set up within the forest that will be used by both our military and police to ensure continuous security," he told Reuters, adding that "around 10" suspected militants who refused to surrender had been killed. In addition, he said at least 36 had been detained.
In 2014, about 100 people were killed by al-Shabaab militants in the Mpeketoni area of Lamu County, next to the Boni forest.
Last year, Ole Serian said they had destroyed five al-Shabaab hideouts in the forest and recovered a cache of arms.
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Kenya has beefed up security in Lamu County and Lamu town, a popular tourist destination where visitor numbers have declined in the wake of the militant attacks. Lamu lies near the Somali border.
Meanwhile, the government's threats to close Dadaab camp, home to about 350,000 Somali refugees, have grown louder. Following the April 2015, Garissa attacks officials began to claim they would shut down the the facility and forcibly return residents back to Somalia, citing concerns Dadaab was being used by militants. On Monday, Kenya said it was drawing up a timetable for the closure. The United Nations, the United States, and other rights groups have urged Kenya to reconsider.
Across the border in Somalia, al-Shabaab was hit with another blow on Thursday after US forces in Somalia launched an airstrike on Thursday that killed five al-Shabaab fighters, the latest in a series of US military operations targeting the organization, the Pentagon said.
The US forces had been advising Ugandan soldiers with the African Union mission during an operation against an illegal taxation checkpoint when the Ugandans got into a firefight with 15-20 al-Shabaab fighters. Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis said no American forces were wounded on the ground during the incident, which took place west of the Somali capital of Mogadishu.
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"US forces were not involved with this firefight. We were nearby but not directly involved ourselves," Davis told a Pentagon news briefing, adding that the American forces were further back from the fighting, acting in an advisory role.
Abdiasis Abu Musab, al-Shabaab's military operation spokesman, denied al-Shabaab took any casualties from what he described as a US drone strike. Musab said that US forces arrived in armored vehicles and were repulsed by al-Shabaab fighters.
"There were no casualty. The US forces retreated," he told Reuters.
The United States currently has about 50 military personnel inside Somalia and has repeatedly targeted the group in recent months, including a strike on a senior al-Shabaab leader in April and another on a training camp in March that killed some 150 fighters.
Al-Shabaab, whose name means "The Youth," seeks to impose its strict version of sharia, or Islamic law, in Somalia, where it frequently unleashes attacks targeting security and government targets, as well as hotels and restaurants in the capital. The group was pushed out of Mogadishu by African Union peacekeeping forces in 2011 but has remained a potent antagonist in Somalia, launching frequent attacks in its bid to overthrow the Western-backed government.