al_war_with_Al_Shabaab> Kibaki gambles on regional war with Al Shabaab
After chasing kidnappers across the border, the Kenyan army is digging in
for the longer term in Somalia
25th October 2011
As the Kenyan army ventured deeper into Somalia, in its first cross-border
campaign in 44 years, a regional grand strategy to deal with Al Haraka al
Shabaab al Mujahideen is beginning to emerge. Kenya's intervention was under
detailed consideration several weeks before Nairobi's official declaration
of war against Al Shabaab on 15 October. There is little substance to media
claims that United States diplomats based in Nairobi were surprised by
Kenya's operation. Both the USA and Britain run substantive regional
counter-terrorism operations from Nairobi.
_map_COL2.jpg> Kenya | Somalia Map
Although the mobilisation was initially announced as a 'hot pursuit'
operation against Somali-based groups who had kidnapped tourists in
north-eastern Kenya, President
Kibaki's government and Somalia's Transitional Federal Government (TFG)
quickly characterised the military campaign as a coordinated effort, even if
Kenya appeared to be acting unilaterally.
According to Lieutenant Colonel Paddy Ankunda of the African Union Mission
in Somalia, the current military campaigns are part of a 'longer-term
strategy to create a peaceful Somalia.' Amisom's first priority was to
liberate Mogadishu and then Kismayo from the grip of Al Shabaab fighters,
Ankunda said. 'We are working with allied Somali forces in south-western and
western Somalia.' He pointed to the complexity of the military situation on
the Somalia-Kenya border, where several militia groups are operating, some
in alliance with and some independently of Al Shabaab.
Ankunda claims the Ahlu Sunna wal Jama'ah and Ras Kamboni militias (just
north of the border) were both receiving financing from supporters in Kenya.
Those groups - which some believe may have been behind the tourist
abductions, seeking to sell their hostages to Al Shabaab or others - appear
to have scattered for now in the face of the Kenyan army's invasion. A much
more elaborate strategy was outlined by Major Emmanuel Chirchir of Kenya's
Defence Ministry, which ties Nairobi into longer-term intervention. He said
the regional plan for Amisom was to expand the TFG's forces radially from
Mogadishu: both Somali and Western officials claim that Al Shabaab has been
effectively banished, although sceptics see this much more as a strategic
retreat by the militia (AC Vol 52 No 20,
da> Al Shabaab sets the agenda).
It had long been agreed, Chirchir said, that if the TFG forces were not able
to repulse Al Shabaab and 'threat levels went up', neighbouring states would
confront Al Shabaab inside Somalia. That raises the possibility of another
intervention by Ethiopian Prime Minister
Meles Zenawi's government, which sent its troops into Somalia in December
2006 to overthrow the Islamic Courts Union regime, which had been unwise
enough to propose the forcible reunification of ethnic Somali territory,
including Ethiopia's Ogaden Region. Ethiopian troops stayed two years and
bequeathed the current unstable and foreign-backed TFG regime to Somalia.
Some factions from the Islamic Courts regime changed their rhetoric, such as
Sheikh Sherif Sheikh Ahmed, now TFG President; others took a harder line and
joined forces with Al Shabaab.
Although Ethiopia's experience suggests that Kenyan troops could face a long
hard slog, Chirchir is undaunted: 'Based on our success so far, it's going
to be a quick operation.' His colleagues were claiming that Kenyan forces
had killed over 70 Shabaab forces by 19 October as they marched towards the
militia's base at Afmadow.
Kenya is further helped by the strong support that its invasion of
south-central Somalia is getting from the TFG in Mogadishu and the AU forces
(Ugandan and Burundian) already in the country. Somalis outside government
sound far less enthusiastic and fear more 'collateral damage'.
On 18 October, Kenya's Foreign Minister, Moses Wetangula, and defence
Minister Yusuf Haji met their Somali counterparts at a heavily guarded
office in Mogadishu. While they were discussing strategy, a car bomb
exploded outside a Foreign Ministry building killing six people. The
prospect of a general escalation of hostilities within and on the borders of
Somalia alarms civilians.
While the Kenyan forces tried to drive Al Shabaab fighters from their
southern Somali strongholds, TFG officials said their forces were launching
a new offensive from Mogadishu. Chirchir insisted this campaign, in which
TFG forces would lead the assault on Shabaab bases outside the capital, was
coordinated with the support of Amisom. The TFG Spokesman, Abdirahman Omar
Osman, spoke of a close alliance between Mogadishu and Nairobi. 'Kenya and
Somalia are in agreement on security issues. The Kenyan troops were deployed
to reinforce security in Somalia. They have been helping our troops
logistically and with training.'
All this represents a sharp turn in Kenyan policy, with successive
governments studiously avoiding any military involvement in Somalia.
Instead, Kenya's main contribution has been to host conferences to form
transitional governments to run Somalia, albeit with almost no popular
mandate or grassroots support. A prime concern for the Nairobi government is
the 2.4 million strong Kenyan Somali population and the 600,000 Somali
refugees in centres such as the camps around Dadaab in the already troubled
Although the Kenyan authorities said the recent abduction of tourists along
the Kenyan coast had prompted their invasion, there is little agreement
about which militias are responsible or their motives. Whether or not it is
responsible for the kidnappings, Al Shabaab may now benefit from the
ill-will that the Kenyan forces will generate if many civilians are killed
during its new operation - on both sides of the border.
Some Somali groups warn that the action could steer some young and
frustrated Kenyan Somalis towards Al Shabaab and other militia groups which
have stepped up recruitment inside Kenya. On 19 October, the Kenyan
government announced a sweeping internal crackdown on sympathisers of Al
Shabaab and illegal immigrants in densely populated centres such as
Nairobi's Eastleigh district.
Panic in Lamu
Some witnesses say the kidnappings along Kenya's coast were carried out by
groups linked to the Somali pirates whose operations have come under
pressure from heavier international maritime policing in the region. The
kidnappings generated panic. The resort town of Lamu, favoured by
(relatively) wealthy European tourists, emptied within days and this at the
start of the tourist high season, which this year was forecast to generate a
record US$1 billion in revenue.
Those abductions were further aggravated by the kidnapping of two Spanish
aid workers in the sprawling Dadaab refugee camp. This was the shot that
sent Kenya's armed forces into south-central Somalia. Invoking Article 61 of
the United Nations charter on territorial integrity, some 1,600 Kenyan
troops launched their first cross-border military offensive, Operation Linda
Nchi (Protect the Nation), since the end of the Shifta War in 1967. Derided
in the region for their lack of fighting experience, the Kenyan armed forces
have deployed mechanised infantry with aerial cover from fighter aircraft
and helicopter gunships. We hear that Somali TFG troops will be joining them
in the battle for Afmadow.
The real prize, though, is the port city of Kismayo. Both Kenya's military
and its Amisom counterparts believe that the capture of Kismayo, from which
Al Shabaab now derives much of its revenue, will choke off the militants.
Military sources hinted that cross-border troop movements had begun some
days before the formal announcement on 15 October. They also suggest that
troop deployments along the Kenya-Somali border had begun as early as
November 2010, when the army's Operations Command was shifted from Nairobi
to the northern town of Garissa. Similarly, increased troop movements in the
North- Eastern Province, which borders Somalia, coincided with the
cancellation of military training programmes for Kenyan Somalis who were
meant to join up with TFG forces. In a recent interview with this
correspondent, Prime Minister
ga> Raila Amolo Odinga said that the government had abandoned these training
programmes when many of the Somali recruits went absent without leave.
Odinga had hinted then, two weeks before the start of Kenya's military
campaign, that it was time for his government to intervene directly in
However, the crisis may throw into sharper focus the links between the
militia groups, their financiers, drugs and arms traffickers and the growth
of institutional corruption in Kenya (AC Vol 52 No 9,
Sinking the pirates). A new report* by Peter Gastrow argues that
collaboration between corrupt officials and politicians in Nairobi and
transnational criminal networks is critically undermining the capacity of
the government. The report points to the growth of heroin transshipments
through Kenya from Iran and Pakistan and the way that militias in Somalia
have started to profit from drugs trafficked into Kenya. The port of
Kismayo, currently controlled by Al Shabaab in southern Somalia, has become
an important staging post for drug consignments en route to Kenya.
No one, including Gastrow, can reliably say how much of this criminal
activity is linked to politics and militias, and there are many grey areas,
with gun runners aligning to certain militia groups for mainly financial
Similarly, experts differ over the links between Al Shabaab and Somali
pirates. Colonel John Steed, Principal Military Advisor at the UN Political
Office Somalia, speaks of growing cooperation between Al Shabaab, which he
says is desperate for funds after its ejection from Mogadishu, and pirates
and other criminal gangs.
Yet others argue that although Al Shabaab sometimes imposes taxes on pirate
groups there are no established logistical links between pirates and the
More important as a root cause is the discontent along the Kenya Coast,
where landlessness, youth unemployment and historical grievances have made
the area a recruiting ground for the militias, which promise a mixture of
religious rectitude and a share of the substantial financial proceeds.
Indeed, some link the abduction of two tourists, Judith Tebutt and Marie
Dedieu (who died while being held hostage in Kismayo), to groups out to
sabotage the tourism industry as a way of highlighting the economic
marginalisation of Coastal communities. Over the past year, several groups,
notably the Mombasa Republican Council, a non-violent organisation
advocating for Coastal secession from Kenya, have emerged. The MRC, whose
slogan is Pwani Si Kenya (literally, 'The Coast is not Kenya'), is said to
have recruited up to two million members.
The core issue is less whether Kenya's conventional forces can outgun Al
Shabaab but whether, in alliance with the 9,000 or so Amisom troops, they
can face down the militias long enough to allow the shaky TFG to consolidate
power. Having pushed Al Shabaab out of Mogadishu and crucially, Bakara
Market, which reportedly accounted for about half of the militia's income,
about US$100 mn. a year, Amisom's wanted to press its advantage. with its
new Kenyan allies.
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Received on Tue Oct 25 2011 - 18:51:20 EDT