NAIROBI (Reuters) - An airstrike on Sunday in Somalia killed five people and wounded 45, mostly women and children, in a camp for people displaced by drought and violence, aid agency Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said.
Kenya’s military spokesman confirmed on Sunday its jets struck the town of Jilib, where the camp is located, saying 10 al Shabaab insurgents had been killed. He dismissed reports of any civilian casualties as propaganda from al Shabaab, an insurgent group linked to al Qaeda.
Somalia’s Defence Minister Hussein Arab Isse also denied the airstrike had hit a civilian camp. He told Reuters the target in Jilib was a convey of al Shabaab vehicles heading towards Kenya and dozens had been killed.
“I can confirm five dead and 45 wounded,” said Gautam Chatterjee, Head of Mission for MSF Holland in Somalia. He said three children, one man and one woman had been killed.
“In our hospital in Marare, we received 31 children, nine women and five men. All of them of with shrapnel injuries.”
Kenya sent troops into Somalia in mid-October in pursuit of the Somali insurgents it blames for a series of kidnappings on Kenyan soil and frequent assaults on its security forces in the border province of North Eastern.
The first serious clash between Kenyan troops and al Shabaab militants was last Thursday. Kenya said it killed nine rebels and one Kenyan soldier wounded in the insurgent ambush subsequently died.
MSF’s Chatterjee said the aerial bombardment was witnessed by MSF employees in the camp that is home to 1,500 households.
Chatterjee declined to comment on Kenyan military denials of civilian casualties in Jilib, saying he could only give details of the patients MSF had received for treatment.
He said MSF had now evacuated its team from Jilib so a distribution of rations planned for Monday had been postponed.
The offensive by Kenyan troops in southern Somalia also comes as an African Union force (AMISOM) is battling al Shabaab rebels for full control of the capital Mogadishu.
U.N. special envoy to Somalia, Augustine Mahiga, said on Monday that Somali government troops and AMISOM now control 98 percent of the coastal capital, but that the 9,000-strong African Union force needed reinforcements to deal with guerrilla-style attacks in so-called “asymmetric warfare”.
“In the north east of city we are witnessing a combination of conventional warfare as well as asymmetrical warfare. It is of course quite a challenge and sends a big reminder to the troop contributing countries that we should be expediting the deployment of the remaining 3,000 troops,” he said.
“There is a need for additional equipment like helicopters and engineering teams to deal with asymmetric warfare,” he told reporters in the Kenyan capital.
AU forces from Uganda came under attack from two suicide bombers on Saturday in the capital. The AU force said two of its soldiers had been wounded, although sources said some Ugandan soldiers had been killed in a brief firefight.
Al Shabaab said it had killed 80 Ugandan soldiers in a two-hour battle.
Somalia’s Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali was in the Kenyan capital on Monday for talks about the Kenyan offensive with government officials.
Additional reporting by Richard Lough and Sahra Abdi in Nairobi; Editing by