Kenya claims 'many dead' as jets strike Shebab camp

NAIROBI - Kenyan warplanes have destroyed a Shebab rebel camp in southern Somalia used to train gunmen who attacked Nairobi's Westgate shopping mall in September, Kenya's defence ministry said.

Many rebels were killed in the "major aerial offensive" conducted on Thursday, said a ministry statement issued later the same day.

The airstrike "completely destroyed an Al-Shebab training camp," located in the Dinsoor region some 300 kilometers (190 miles) west of Somalia's capital Mogadishu, the statement said.

"Initial reports from the ground confirmed that that four technical vehicles and a weapons store were destroyed."

"At the time of the airstrike, the camp had over 300 recruits, many of whom are believed to have perished, with many others suffering injuries," it added.

"The training camp has been used by Al-Shebab to train operatives some of whom are eventually infiltrated into the country. The Westgate attackers received their training from this camp," the ministry said in the statement issued late Thursday.

There was no immediate reaction from the Shebab, a hardline Islamist and Al-Qaeda-linked rebel group which still controls large parts of southern Somalia.

Kenya promised that "operations of this nature will be sustained into the future" as part of efforts by AMISOM, a 17,700-strong UN-mandated African Union force supporting Somalia's internationally-backed government.

The strike comes amid increased military operations against the Shebab.

On Monday the US military carried out a drone strike which officials said killed a top Shebab suicide bomb-maker. In early October US Navy SEALS struck the Shebab-held southern port of Barawe, but failed to kill or capture the top militant being targetted.

AMISOM has requested its size be boosted to 23,000 troops, with the force now expected to try to push south from Mogadishu and link up with Kenyan troops, denying Shebab access to the sea.

Shebab said it carried out the attack on the Westgate mall, which left at least 67 dead, in retaliation for Kenya's military intervention in Somalia.