Somalia: Al-Shabaab flee port city ahead of military advance

The militant group al-Shabaab has pulled its commanders out of the port city of Kismayo, leaving foot soldiers to defend its last bastion against advancing African troops, residents and Kenya's military said yesterday.

The al-Qa'ida-linked rebels have lost strongholds across southern and central Somalia in the past year in the face of advances by African Union forces, including Kenyan troops.

While the capture of Kismayo – the hub of al-Shabaab's southern operations – would be likely to weaken the rebels' military capacity and morale, it is unlikely to deliver the knock-out blow hoped for by Mogadishu and its regional allies. Western diplomats expect the insurgents will retreat into the hinterlands and resort to guerrilla raids and urban bombings.

Kenyan forces have overrun several militant outposts to the north and south-west of Kismayo in the past two days, pushing to within 30 miles of Somalia's second-biggest city.

The abandonment of Kismayo amounted to an acceptance of defeat, Kenya's military spokesman said. "Kismayo is poised for capture. We don't expect any resistance once we get to the city."