* Al Shabaab on the back foot under military pressure
* Kenyan AU troops surround last rebel bastion
* Rebels seen turning increasingly to guerrilla tactics
By Abdi Sheikh
MOGADISHU, Sept 19 Hundreds of Somali al Shabaab
militants poured into the southern port city of Kismayu on
Wednesday raising fears of a bloody showdown with African Union
soliders for control of the rebels' last bastion, residents
The al Qaeda-linked insurgents drove convoys of
machinegun-mounted pickup trucks into the city and set about
building defences, witnesses said.
Somalia is a hotspot in the U.S.-led war on militant Islam
and al Shabaab is the most powerful of an array of militias
spawned by two decades of conflict - threatening regional
The reinforcements came a day after locals said al Shabaab
commanders had pulled out of the city leaving a small number of
soldiers to defend the stronghold.
Rumours swirled though Kismayu's winding alleyways that one
of the militants' top three commanders was now in the city.
"Al Shabaab fighters have filled the bases and camps they
abandoned in the past few days," said butcher Farah Roble.
"We're terrified. Al Shabaab looks determined to fight for
Kismayu," he said.
Earlier this week, Kenyan forces overran several militant
outposts to the north and southwest of Kismayu, pushing to
within 50 km (30 miles) of Somalia's second biggest city.
Kenyan military spokesman Colonel Cyrus Oguna said the final
assault on Kismayu was inevitable.
"We are very, very near Kismayu. It is not a tarmac road
that we are walking on. We have to be cautious, the way is
littered with explosives. Nevertheless, it will happen. Kismayu
will fall," he told Reuters by phone.
Defeat in Kismayu, a hub of al Shabaab operations throughout
the group's five-year insurgency, would badly hurt the rebels'
morale and weaken their capacity as a fighting force.
However, it might not deliver the knockout blow hoped for by
Mogadishu and its regional allies. Western diplomats expect the
insurgents to turn increasingly to guerrilla-style hit-and-run
raids and urban bombings.
"DUTY TO FIGHT"
Al Shabaab said Kismayu, about 500 km (311 miles) south of
the capital Mogadishu, was calm. Its radio station, Radio
Andalus, was back on air after broadcasts stopped on Tuesday.
"All offices and businesses are open. We do not fear our
enemies. They cannot just dash into Kismayu because we have
strong defences," Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab, spokesman for al
Shabaab's military operations, told Reuters.
The U.N. refugee agency said about 4,000 civilians had fled
Kismayu since Monday. Residents reported on Wednesday that al
Shabaab were trying to stop locals fleeing.
"Al Shabaab is taking to the mosques and ordering people to
fight. They said Muslims have a duty to fight the African Union
forces inside and outside the city," said resident Ismail Sugow.
Sugow said he could hear al Shabaab test-firing their
artillery on the city's outskirts.
He said Shabaab had drafted in fighters from nearby Bay,
Bakool and Lower Shabelle regions. A second resident said the
reinforcements came from "other parts of the country".
Another resident, Hussein Nur, said the militants, who
accuse the government of serving only Western interests and want
to install a strict interpretation of sharia, Islamic law, were
whipping up fear among the local population.
"Al Shabaab said in the mosques 'all Muslims should join the
jihad as Kenyan troops will rape your wives and sisters and loot
your property'," Nur said.
Kenya sent troops into Somalia, on its eastern border, in
October to help crush the militants, and Kenyans are expected to
lead AMISOM forces in an eventual assault on the port city.
Al Shabaab has lost strongholds across southern and central
Somalia in the past year as AMISOM troops - including Ugandans,
Burundians and Djiboutians - advance.