Kenyan troops intervened in Somalia a year ago to stop cross-border attacks
Kenyan troops launched a pre-dawn attack on the Somali port city of Kismayu on Friday in an assault to drive the al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab militant group from its last major stronghold.
Fighting and shelling was taking place on the city's beaches after a land and amphibious assault, city residents and rebels said.
The loss of the southern port would deal a huge blow to al Shabaab as it is a lucrative source of revenue and a centre for operations over areas it has controlled in south-central Somalia since 2007, reports Reuters.
The group, which formally merged with al Qaeda in February, has been steadily losing its footholds under sustained pressure from African peacekeeping forces (AMISOM) and Somali government troops for the past year.
While Kismayu's recapture would go a long way towards stabilizing Somalia, which has lacked effective central government for the past 20 years, it may embolden the militants to resort to more guerrilla-style attacks.
Kenyan military spokesman Col. Cyrus Oguna said Kenyan soldiers and Somali government troops had advanced on Kismayu from the north, south and from the sea and was now in control of parts of the city.
"We're moving towards the main city. Our surveillance aircraft are monitoring every event taking place on the ground," Oguna told Reuters.
Oguna said there had been little resistance while Al Shabaab said it was still in Kismayu, the country's second biggest city.
Residents reported fighting near the beach earlier on Friday, about 4 km (2.5 miles) outside the city, as military helicopters hovered overhead.
"We saw seven ships early in the morning and now their firing looks like lightning and thunder. Al Shabaab have gone towards the beach. The ships poured many AU troops on the beach," Ismail Suglow told Reuters.
Locals said businesses were closed and many streets were deserted. Some masked men looked on from windows and balconies.
"We can hear deafening shells and the town looks dead. We don't know where to go, the jets are now flying over," said Rukia Jelle, who was watching the scene outside her home with her five children.
The Kenyan military spokesman predicted an easy takeover.