Kenya plans imminent air strikes on al Shabaab strongholds across southern and central Somalia and has warned residents of 10 towns to keep clear of rebel camps, a Kenyan military spokesman said on Tuesday.
Emmanuel Chirchir said Kenya was tracking two consignments of weapons destined for al Shabaab that had been flown into the Horn of Africa country in the past two days, and would strike any rebel bases where the arms were delivered.
Chirchir said al Shabaab rebels in towns including the port city of Kismayu, nerve-centre of the al Qaeda-linked insurgents' southern operations, Baidoa, and Afgoye near the capital Mogadishu would be under attack continuously.
We will attack the camps where weapons are being delivered. We are tracking the weapons right now. All these towns have camps. If weapons go to a camp, we'll hit it, Chirchir said.
When asked when the strikes would happen, Chirchir replied: Imminently. He declined to give further details for operational reasons.
It was not immediately clear where the arms cache -- reportedly flown into Baidoa, 270 km northwest of the capital, on Monday and Tuesday -- originated from, or what it contained.
We are asking people not to enter the camps in those towns. If they are going to stand in (al Shabaab)camps, they must know we will deliver any minute, Chirchir said.
Kenya is under pressure to avoid civilian casualties after several people were killed on Sunday as its warplanes attacked the town of Jilib.
PROBE INTO CIVILIAN DEATHS
Kenya sent troops into Somalia in mid-October in pursuit of al Shabaab, which it blames for a series of kidnappings on Kenyan soil and frequent assaults on its security forces along its northern border with Somalia.
Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga said on Tuesday that any loss of civilian life was regrettable and would be investigated.
The Kenyan military says the Jilib air strike hit an al Shabaab vehicle armed with an anti-aircraft gun and loaded with ammunition near a refugee camp. It says the truck caught fire and was driven into the camp in search of human shields, but exploded.
Odinga has dismissed reports that its fighter jets struck the camp as al Shabaab propaganda.
Salim Lone, an adviser to Odinga, later told Reuters that Kenya acknowledged civilians had been killed during the air raid but that Nairobi believed they had been killed by al Shabaab.
However, we are looking into it again, Lone said.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said on Tuesday it had resumed food distribution to over 6,000 people in Jilib, following a brief suspension after Sunday's attack.
AL SHABAAB AMBUSH
Meanwhile, al Shabaab rebels ambushed a Kenyan military convoy in southern Somalia on Tuesday, according to the insurgents, a militia fighting with Kenyan and Somali government troops and a Kenyan security source.
All three sources told Reuters the ambush had happened on the road leading from the Kenyan border town of Liboi towards forward Kenyan troop positions further inside Somalia.
Kenyan troops were attacked on the same road last Thursday in the first serious clash with al Shabaab fighters since pushing into Somalia.
A Kenyan security source, who declined to be named, said three soldiers had been wounded in Tuesday's attack.
Army spokesman Chirchir confirmed that there had been a firefight between Kenyan forces and four suspected al Shabaab militants.
Denying an ambush, he said the convoy had challenged the gunmen to stop walking, at which point they opened fire.
Kenyan forces dismounted and returned fire. As they returned fire, these guys fled towards the bushes. The commander decided not to pursue them because he felt he was being lured into a trap, Chirchir said.
Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab, spokesman for al Shabaab's fighters, said they had ambushed a Kenyan military convoy between Tabda and Dhobley and killed 10 soldiers.
The main objective of Kenyan ground forces is to seize the southern port of Kismayu, a key source of funding for the militants, and to break up the rebel network.
Operation Linda Nchi is on course, advance to Kismayu is on schedule, Chirchir said earlier on Twitter.
Linda Nchi means Protect the Nation in Swahili.
(Additional reporting by Feisal Omar in Mogadishu, David Clarke and Sahra Abdi in Nairobi; Writing by David Clarke and Richard Lough; Editing by Jon Hemming)