Analysis: Somali rebels bruised, but may dodge knockout blow
By Richard Lough
NAIROBI (Reuters) - Expelled from a string of strategic towns, cut off from revenue sources and struggling for its survival, Somalia's Islamist militant group al Shabaab is steeling for an anticipated assault on its last bastion by Western-backed African forces.
But while the capture of the southern port and militant stronghold of Kismayu in coming weeks could weaken the al Qaeda-linked rebels, it is unlikely to deliver the knock-out blow hoped for by Mogadishu and its allies.
Kenyan forces operating in Somalia seized the southern rebel stronghold of Afmadow in late May. This opened the way for what Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga said would be a "final onslaught" on Kismayu, Somalia's second biggest city which is a hub for al Shabaab and a main base for its foreign fighters.
Kismayu would be taken by August, Odinga said this month.
But some regional diplomats feel this target is over ambitious. There are fears too a wounded al Shabaab will simply redeploy from Kismayu and hit back with guerrilla raids and urban bombings, disrupting efforts to end two decades of violence in the Horn of Africa state.
"The fall of Kismayu might hurt the rebel economy, but they will launch more attacks," said Hassan Farah, a shopkeeper in the coastal city. He said the dense forest surrounding the port would be an easy hiding ground for the rebels.
"Al Shabaab will not go far, even if they lose Kismayu."
The diplomats argue that African Union peace keepers deployed against al Shabaab need to consolidate their numbers in other recently won urban areas, before the assault on Kismayu. Continued...