What is left of the Union of Islamic Courts army have retreated to the southern port city of Kismayu having been pushed out of Mogadishu by US backed Ethiopian forces, and the Kenyan border blocked by government reinforcements.
Despite pleas from local tribal leaders that the UIC give up, the Islamists vowed to fight
“We told them that they were going to lose,” [Mohammed] Arab [a leader of the Ogaden sub-clan] said, “and that our city would get destroyed.”
Kismayo, a scenic harbor town along the Indian Ocean that was once part of the fabled East African spice empire, had been spared the fighting so far.
But the Islamists, according to Mr. Arab, did not care.
“These guys are bent on war,” he said.
And so, the final chapter has begun
Fighting between the Islamic Courts fighters and the Ethiopian and government forces has started around Jilib district, 120 km south of Kismayu, the current stronghold for the Islamists.
Reports said the fighting has started at 5:00 pm local time in Jilib where Islamist forces and the Ethiopian and government troops backed by tanks and armored vehicles were facing off.
Resistance in Mogadishu collapsed surprisingly fast "when clan elders decided that the Islamists were a losing cause and pulled their troops and weapons out of the movement."
But Kismayu is different. Not because the UIC has a better chance of winning, but because of who is there.
Kismayo is where the Islamist leadership fled after losing Mogadishu, bringing with them their most devout and hardcore fighters. Ethiopian officials have said that the Somali Islamists are bolstered by several thousand foreign fighters — from Yemen, Pakistan, Syria, Libya and Eritrea, Ethiopia’s bitter enemy, though American intelligence officials say the numbers are far fewer, most likely in the hundreds.
Rumored to be among the crowd of Islamists are the al Qaida operatives responsible for the 1998 Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. If the UIC gives up, or these guys are taken alive, they will be turned over to US custody.
The three men Comorian Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, Kenyan Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan and Abu Taha al-Sudani, a Sudanese are al-Qaida suspects and are under U.S. indictment for the 1998 bombings of embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed hundreds of people.
"We know they are in Kismayo," Gedi said. "We would like to capture or kill these guys at any cost. They are the root of the problem."