MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) — Hundreds of Somali troops on Monday entered the port city of Kismayo for the first time since Kenyan troops carried out an amphibious assault on the coastal port city last week, a military offensive that caused al-Shabab militants to flee.
Residents in Kismayo said that Somali troops drove into the port city and met little or no military resistance. Residents largely remained indoors and businesses were closed.
"They are on the streets now. They are firing gunshots now but there is no fighting," Mohamed Hashi, a resident in the town told The Associated Press by phone. "We pray their arrival will not bring chaos and robbery as happened in other towns. We have actually suffered a lot," she said.
It wasn't immediately clear if Kenyan forces working alongside the Somali troops also entered the heart of Kismayo. The Kenyan forces have been on the northern edge of town since the initial assault last Friday. More Kenyan troops are closing in on Kismayo from the west.
The Kenyan Defense Forces said on its Twitter feed Monday afternoon that African Union, Kenyan and Somali troops were "consolidating the gains in Kismayu and expanding out to the rest of the city." The Kenyan military said that civilian safety and security was a top priority.
Kismayo was the last stronghold of the al-Qaida-linked militant group al-Shabab, which taxed goods coming into the port to help fund their activities. Al-Shabab announced their withdrawal from Kismayo shortly after the Kenyan assault on Friday.
The Somali and allied African forces have made significant progress against al-Shabab, the top U.S. official on Africa, Johnnie Carson, an assistant secretary of state, said Monday.
The African Union force "deserves an enormous amount of credit for driving al-Shabab out of Mogadishu and its environs and also for moving against the city of Kismayo," he said.
The African Union force is made up of Ugandan and Burundian troops, who pushed al-Shabab out of Mogadishu in August 2011, and forces from Djibouti and Kenya. Carson said troops from Sierra Leone would arrive in Somalia on Monday and Tuesday to bolster the AU force, which is known as AMISOM.
The Islamist extremist rebels of al-Shabab, who once controlled nearly all of Mogadishu and all of south-central Somalia, now hold only small villages, and the capture of Kismayo serves as a huge economic blow. Al-Shabab is now likely to resort to guerrilla-style attacks like suicide and roadside bombings.
The next challenge for Kismayo is to get the different clans from the surrounding area to cooperate in order to peacefully govern the city.
Carson said the U.S. recognizes that there will be clan competition in Kismayo now. He said he hopes the government in Mogadishu alongside AMISOM and the U.N. "will go in very quickly and establish political stability and a political system that takes into account the various clan and sub-clan interests."
Al-Shabab found little popular support in Kismayo, say residents, because of the conservative brand of Islam it tried to impose on residents. Al-Shabab carried out public executions, whippings and amputations as punishment. The militants also enforced a conservative dress code and social rules.
"Somali forces are now patrolling the city streets. It's a big day and the end of the fear for us," resident Muse Ali said. "We hope the change will lead us into peace and clan agreements."
Associated Press reporter Jason Straziuso in Nairobi, Kenya contributed to this report.