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Kenyan PM wants to take Al-Shabaab stronghold in Somalia by August

By David McKenzie, CNN
updated 7:52 AM EDT, Tue June 12, 2012
File photo of Prime Minister of Kenya, Raila Amolo Odinga, on March 8, 2012 at the EU Headquarters in Brussels.
File photo of Prime Minister of Kenya, Raila Amolo Odinga, on March 8, 2012 at the EU Headquarters in Brussels.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • "Without controlling Kismayo, it is difficult to completely neutralize Al-Shabaab," Raila Odinga says
  • Kismayo seen as one of the few urban strongholds, and revenue generators, for Al-Shabaab
  • Odinga outlined a joint effort from "land, sea and air" for the operation
  • Kenyan troops are part of the African Union Mission in Somalia, which gets U.N. funding

(CNN) -- Kenya's prime minister has put a deadline on capturing a key military objective in Somalia, drawing a line in the sand in his country's war with Islamic militants.

"Our aim is to get to Kismayo by August," Raila Odinga said in a meeting with foreign correspondents in Nairobi on Tuesday. "Without controlling Kismayo, it is difficult to completely neutralize Al-Shabaab."

Since invading Somalia in October of last year, Kenyan forces have been cautious in taking territory from the al Qaeda-linked Al-Shabaab.

In late May, Kenyan ground forces took the town of Afmadow, considered the final step before Kismayo.

Since Al-Shabaab forces retreated from central Mogadishu under a heavy barrage from African Union forces last August, military analysts and diplomats consider Kismayo one of the few remaining urban strongholds, and revenue generators, for Al-Shabaab.

The battle against al-Shabaab in Somalia
New push against militants in Somalia

Odinga outlined a joint effort from "land, sea and air" for the operation, which he hoped would include European Union naval assistance.

"So far, they have been reluctant," he said.

Kenyan military commanders have repeatedly said they wish to delay moving into Kismayo, as they want to consolidate territory carefully as they move forward. However, a key factor has also been money.

With Kenya "rehatting" as part of the African Union Mission in Somalia, or AMISOM, the nation will access funds from the U.N. to conduct its operations.

It's a move welcomed by the U.S. government, one of the chief funders, through the U.N., of AMISOM's operations.

"We are very pleased with the rehatting of the Kenyan troops in Somalia," Johnnie Carson, U.S. assistant secretary of state for African affairs, said after a trip to Mogadishu on Sunday. "We will continue to provide assistance to AMISOM as long as Al-Shabaab remains a threat to people in the region."

He said the U.S. was not privy to Kenya's operational plans to move on Kismayo. While officials from both countries say the U.S. frequently shares intelligence with Kenya, as part of its allied relationship, they maintain that there is no direct military support.

"If the U.S. could bring military assistance, far much the better," Odinga said.

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