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Originally published Saturday, March 17, 2012 at 4:40 AM

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AU Somalia force to take command of Kenyan troops

The African Union's peacekeeping force in Somalia will soon take command of Kenyan troops in the war-torn Horn of Africa nation, a Kenyan military official said Saturday.

Associated Press

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NAIROBI, Kenya —

The African Union's peacekeeping force in Somalia will soon take command of Kenyan troops in the war-torn Horn of Africa nation, a Kenyan military official said Saturday.

Col. Cyrus Oguna, who is in charge of Kenyan troops in Somalia, said the African Union will take over the 4,664 Kenyans as of March 30. He said the U.N. will provide major equipment such as road vehicles and planes.

Oguna said Kenya's inclusion in the force will bring the total number of troops to nearly 18,000 under the AU peacekeeping force.

Burundi, Djibouti and Uganda also contribute to the force.

Oguna said 850 troops from Sierra Leone will join the AU force by June, at which point Kenya will send home an equal number of troops.

He said troops would be based in strategic locations around the country.

Oguna did not say what role Ethiopian troops, who are in Somalia independently, would have in the AU plan. Ethiopian troops recently entered Somalia in the country's west.

Kenya sent hundreds of troops to Somalia in October to pursue al-Qaida-linked Somali militants it blamed for a series of cross-border attacks. AU peacekeepers had been propping up Somalia's weak U.N.-backed government against al-Shabab militants.

Al-Shabab has said it will carry out suicide bombings in Kenya's capital, Nairobi, in retaliation for Kenya's military incursion. Al-Shabab claimed responsibility for the July 2010 suicide attacks in Kampala, Uganda which killed 76 people watching the World Cup final.

Separately, residents in the southern Somali town of Jilib said fighter jets from an unknown military bombed an al-Shabab base on Saturday.

"We heard roaring planes first, then bangs of explosions in an Al-Shabab base in Dhaytubako village," Mohamed Sadaq, a resident in Jilib town nearly 70 miles north of the al-Shabab stronghold, Kismayo.

Al-Shabab described the latest air raid as "brutal" and said the jets targeted animal herders.

The group claimed in a statement on their website said that the Kenyan jets were responsible for the bombings which they said wounded five children and killed 20 animals.

Kenya's military spokesman Maj. Emmanuel Chirchir could not immediately say whether the Kenyan jets were involved in the bombing.

Somalia has been mired in conflict since the 1991, when long-term dictator Siad Barre was overthrown by warlords who then turned on each other. Al-Shabab has had a grip on much of south-central Somalia for the last several years.

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Associated Press Writer Abdi Guled contributed to this story from Mogadishu, Somalia.

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