MOGADISHU, Somalia — Kenyan forces pulled out of two towns in southern Somalia on Tuesday and Islamic extremists quickly moved into one of them, residents said.
The Kenyans' withdrawal came after an attack by Islamic extremists who claimed to have killed scores of Kenyan peacekeepers recently, residents said Tuesday.
The town of El-Ade, where the January 15 attack happened, is "no man's land now" after Kenyan troops withdrew early Tuesday and headed toward the Kenyan border, said resident Ahmed Hassan. He said many residents started returning to their homes after the Kenyans left.
Residents of Badhadhe, another town in Somalia's Lower Jubba region, told The Associated Press that Kenyan forces stationed there had also withdrawn toward the border. Following the Kenyans' departure from Badhadhe, militants from the Islamic extremist group al-Shabab took over and started searching homes, according to resident Mohamed Ali.
Kenyan officials have not said how many troops were killed in the attack on Kenyan forces in El-Ade, but al-Shabab claimed to have killed about 100 Kenyan soldiers. Al-Shabab also claimed its fighters seized armaments and military vehicles in that attack.
Kenyan military spokesman Col. David Obonyo did not respond to repeated calls for comment.
The withdrawal of the Kenyans will be seen as a blow to the country's efforts to create a buffer zone in Somalia's Lower Jubba region near the border.
Kenya first deployed troops to Somalia in 2011 to prevent Islamic extremists from crossing the border and launching attacks that threatened the country's crucial tourism sector.
Al-Shabab opposed the deployment, and vowed to launch more attacks inside Kenyan territory. To stem the attacks, Kenya has also considered building a high wall across the border.
Despite being pushed out of Somalia's major cities and towns, al-Shabab continues to launch deadly guerrilla attacks across the Horn of Africa country. The group frequently targets African Union troops, government officials and foreigners.