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Residents in Kismayo (Kismayu), the al-Shabaab stronghold in Somalia's Lower Jubba region, said that two fighter jets have been spotting flying low level over key installations in the city in what local believes are reconnaissance missions in anticipation of an allied advance into the port city.
While planes have flown over the city repeatedly over the last several months, sometimes conducting airstrikes against the Islamist insurgent bases, residents told Somalia Report today was different because of the low level flying and the areas the planes flew over repeatedly including the airport, seaport, police station and the outskirts where al-Shabaab insurgents have bases.
“These planes were not flying like we are used to seeing. Today they were flying at a very low altitude. We all thought they were going to target the town with weapons and everybody remained vigilant and scared that airstrikes could hit at any time," said Amino Jamac, a resident.
Residents said the planes came from naval ships off Kismayo port, however, Somalia Report could not independently verify this or the types of planes used in today's operation.
Al-Shabaab militia fighters fired at the planes, with the heaviest shooting occurring as the jets neared one of their bases, according to residents.
“The al-Shabaab fighters fired at the planes everytime they passed over the town. They would shoot in the air, but they didn't hit the planes," said Haji, a local resident.
“The planes did not fire at anything in the town. They were just moving over the port, the airport, the administrative places and the outskirts of the town where the al-Shabaab militia are based. It was as if they were collecting some information which they will use later when they try to seize the city from al-Shabaab," added Haji.
This has created fear among residents who never know if a plane is going to strike their city or only conduct reconnaissance.
“There is a reason behind these flights and everyone is now fearful of what will happen next. There might be airstrikes on the places the planes passed over today. The people who live nearby those areas have moved to the other villages in order to remain safe if anything happens over the night. There are also some who remained in their homes although they all share the fear and the panic that came along with the war planes," Qasim, a resident in Calinley village of Kismayo, told Somalia Report.
There is an alarmingly high rate of internal displacement by the residents of Kismayo as people are fleeing the town in anticipation of an allied advance into the city within three weeks, the deadline set by the Somali government.
“Many people are fleeing from the town. Nobody wishes to remain in the town unless they cannot afford to travel to the other parts of the country. Al-Shabaab will not allow the families to flee and that forced the people to travel in smaller groups of three people in each group without taking any goods along so they aren't identified as a displaced people," said Ali, a local resident.
Al-Shabaab has not yet commented on today's flights.
The allied forces of Somalia and the African Union, including Kenya, are steadily advancing towards Kismayo, which remains one of the last strongholds and financial center for the militant group, and have vowed to seize the city by August 20th of this year.