Militants ready to drag Kenyan army into war

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Islamist rebels linked to al-Qa'ida rushed reinforcements to the Somali town of Afmadow yesterday to hunker down for battle with advancing Kenyan and Somali troops.

Kenya mounted an offensive with Somali forces on Sunday in a high-stakes bid to secure the porous border after a wave of kidnappings by gunmen thought to be linked to the rebels. The operation is an escalation that risks dragging Kenya deeper into Somalia's 20-year civil war.

In the capital, Mogadishu, a suicide bomber killed six people outside a building housing two government ministries, the second bomb attack on government offices in the city this month. The Islamist Al-Shabaab movement claimed responsibility for the first explosion and warned that more attacks would come. In a joint statement, Kenya and Somalia agreed they would carry out pre-emptive strikes on militants that threatened the security of either country.

Kenya remained tight-lipped about the details of the operation but a military spokesman said its troops were 100km (62 miles) inside Somalia at Qoqani, about 30km to the west of Afmadow.

"It's difficult to estimate the length of our operation," said Major Emmanuel Chirchir.

Al-Shabaab, which is waging an insurgency to topple a government it sees as a puppet of the West, urged Somalis to pick up arms and threatened retaliation against Kenya for the military operation.