Military sources in the Kenyan army have said 73 Somali militants were killed in a fire-fight Wednesday, with two Kenyan soldiers also dead in one of the bloodiest encounters yet between the two sides.
Hundreds of fighters from the Al-Shabaab extremist group attacked a Kenya army base at Fahfahdhun in Gedo resulting in the dusk fight, sources said.
It is the highest number of casualties since Kenya crossed into Somalia in October following attacks by the Al-Qaeda-allied militant group on its territory.
Military sources said the extremists had planned to overrun the camp but Kenyan troops, who had received prior intelligence reports about the attack, lay in wait.
An hour into the fight, Kenya military spokesman Emmanuel Chirchir posted on his official Twitter account that the Kenyan army had "successfully" resisted the attack and that "a good number of Al-Shabaab" had been killed.
Three Kenyan soldiers injured in the battle, were Thursday airlifted to Nairobi.
An assortment of automatic rifles including AK-47 and pick-up trucks mounted with machine guns were seized by the Kenyan forces, the sources said.
Separately, the Special Representative of the chairperson of the African Union Commission for Somalia, Mr Boubacar Diarra, Thursday said troops fighting in Somalia under Amisom had ensured that civilians were protected from combat.
“Amisom takes its responsibility for the safety of the people of Somalia very seriously and fully understands its obligations to conduct operations without causing undue risk to the local population,” he said.
The official further called for investigations into media reports that civilians had been killed after air raids in Kismayu, the remaining Al-Shabaab stronghold, earlier in the week.
Al-Shabaab had used Twitter to publish photographs of what it said were victims of air raids by the Kenyan army, showing images of a dead boy and two others with injuries.
Mr Diarra said that Amisom did not have any forces in the port city.
"We urge all other military forces to exercise due restraint in areas with a substantial civilian population,” said Mr Diarra.
At the same time, the official urged Somali security forces to allow all candidates to conduct peaceful campaigns ahead of elections expected later in the month.
"When called upon and depending on the availability of resources, Amisom may provide secure transport to key personalities via its armoured convoys. This should not be construed as endorsement of their candidature,” he said.
The region’s soldiers’ successes over the past year include the liberation of the capital Mogadishu from the brutal rule of Al-Shabaab in August last year.
Most recently, Kenyan army captured Afmadow and the battle for Kismayu is expected to take place.