Middle East

Kenyans, Somalis wage information war over dead children

MOGADISHU: An insurgent spokesman and residents in a southern Somali town said two Kenyan fighter jets apparently targeting a militant camp instead killed five children, as a Kenyan military spokesman said Monday that the jets hit an Al-Shabaab command center. The competing claims are typical in the months-long battle between Kenyan troops and Al-Shabaab militants inside Somalia. Both sides use social networking sites to broadcast claims in the battle, but hardly any of those claims are verifiable by independent journalists.

Shamsudin Ali, a resident in the southern Somali town of Jilib, said a Sunday afternoon strike by Kenyan jets may have targeted a militant camp, but instead hit a nearby house, killing four brothers and one child from another family. Ali called it a “bungled” attack.

Al-Shabab said on its Twitter feed that the children’s mother was out buying food during the bombing. Ali told the Associated Press the same thing.

Another resident, Nadifo Haji, said she saw two dead Al-Shabaab fighters being transported into a minivan after the attack.

“Al-Shabaab fighters were also killed, but we ask Kenya to cautiously fight their enemy instead of killing our children. They killed many civilians before. If they are serious why don’t they hit Al-Shabaab camps? They must not encourage us to join in the fight,” she said.

Maj. Emmanuel Chirchir, the spokesman for Kenya’s military, said on his Twitter and Facebook sites Monday that the Sunday attack in Jilib hit an Al-Shabaab command center, destroying communication equipment. Chirchir said a second strike was carried out in the town of Bibi, destroying eight vehicles. He said Al-Shabaab fighters died in the strike, but did not say how many. He did not mention the claims of dead children.

The sentiments of the Jilib residents appeared genuine in two telephone interviews with an AP reporter. But residents who live in Al-Shabaab territory may be under pressure to tell the militants’ version of a story. They also often give alternative names or nicknames when talking to journalists so that they may speak more freely and not fear reprisals.

Kenya has conducted numerous air raids in southern Somalia since sending troops over the border in October following a string of attacks by Somali gunmen on Kenyan soil.

Elsewhere, Isse Yonis, a government military official, said that Ethiopian troops who are operating in western Somalia have taken control in three new villages on the way to Bulo Burte, one of three large towns north of Mogadishu that is held by Al-Shabaab.

Al-Shabab moved its command and control center to Bulo Burte after Ethiopian troops seized the town of Beledweyne from the insurgents.

Ethiopia’s push in the west, Kenya’s in the south, and efforts by Ugandan and Burundian troops in Mogadishu are all aimed at eliminating Al-Shabaab and helping Somalia establish a government that controls more than the capital.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 17, 2012, on page 9.

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