Kenya's Somali mission causes a devastating blowback at home
> geoffrey york
JOHANNESBURG- From Friday's Globe and Mail
Published Thursday, Oct. 27, 2011 8:13PM EDT
For 20 years, Somalia has been a deadly quagmire for foreign troops:
American, Ethiopian, even Canadian. Now another country, Kenya, is learning
the risks of sending soldiers into one of the world's most dangerous and
Less than two weeks after ordering hundreds of its troops across the Somali
border in a bold military offensive, Kenya is already seeing a rising toll
in collateral damage. Three grenade attacks inside Kenya, including one on
Thursday, have killed five civilians and injured scores more in suspected
retaliatory attacks by Somali militants and their allies.
The grenade attacks will inflict severe damage on Kenya's tourism industry,
a key sector of the economy. Foreign embassies have issued warnings to
travellers to stay away from the East African country, and hotels in Nairobi
are already seeing cancellations. The kidnapping of four Western aid workers
and tourists by Somali gunmen in Kenya has further damaged the tourism
The Kenyan invasion is also hampering refugee movements and aid deliveries
by the international famine relief effort, which is trying to prevent a
humanitarian catastrophe in southern and central Somalia, where up to 80,000
people have already died. The number of Somali refugees reaching Kenya has
plunged dramatically, from an average of about 1,000 daily last month to
just 100 a day this week.
"Escalating fighting across the south of Somalia is making it even more
difficult for our partners to safely deliver life-saving support to children
and their families," said Elhadj As Sy, a senior official of Unicef, the
United Nations fund for children.
As for the military offensive itself, it has become bogged down in heavy
rains and mud in southern Somalia, with few gains except empty desert so
far. Despite logistical support from France and its own tanks and warplanes,
Kenya's troops have still not captured their first key target, the strategic
town of Afmadow, 100 kilometres from the Kenyan border, where the Somali
militant group al-Shabab is preparing its defences.
The Kenyan forces clashed with al-Shabab fighters on Thursday for the first
time. Kenya said it killed nine al-Shabab insurgents and suffered two
injuries on its own side.
"The history of recent foreign military interventions in Somalia is
universally bad," said Roger Middleton, an Africa analyst at the Chatham
House think tank in London. "Foreign troops entering Somalia have often left
behind a situation that is worse than the one they sought to improve."
The United States withdrew its forces from Somalia in 1994 after the
notorious Black Hawk Down battle, where 18 of its soldiers were killed in
the bloodiest U.S. combat loss since Vietnam. Canada pulled its troops out
of Somalia after revelations that some of its soldiers had participated in
the torture and beating death of a Somali civilian.
In 2006, Ethiopia sent thousands of its troops into Somalia, but failed to
pacify the country. Instead the invasion strengthened the influence of the
Islamist radicals of al-Shabab, who gained control of southern Somalia and
Mogadishu after the Ethiopians pulled out.
The Islamist militants, who have links to al-Qaeda, had vowed to take
revenge in Kenya after Kenya launched its invasion. Last week, the U.S.
government warned of "an imminent threat of terrorist attacks" at malls and
nightclubs in Kenya. And then the grenade attacks began.
On Monday, one person was killed and scores were injured in two grenade
attacks at a bus stop and a bar in Nairobi. Two days later, a Kenyan man
pleaded guilty to one of the attacks and identified himself as a member of
al-Shabab. The attacks show how the Somalia conflict is spilling across
borders and mutating into hit-and-run terrorist tactics.
On Thursday, in the latest attack, heavily armed gunmen in northern Kenya
ambushed a civilian vehicle with rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns,
killing four people, including a school teacher and a government official.
Al-Shabab militants were again the suspected culprits.
One of al-Shabab's senior leaders, Sheik Muktar Robow, said on Thursday that
he is telling militants in Kenya to launch bombing attacks. "A hand grenade
is nothing," he told hundreds of Shabab supporters in a rally near
Mogadishu. "We want you to carry out big painful blows to Kenya."
Last week, al-Shabab publicly displayed the bodies of dozens of soldiers
that it claimed to have killed in Mogadishu, including many Burundians from
an African Union peacekeeping mission. In an attempt to portray the conflict
as a religious war, they displayed Bibles and crucifixes from the Burundian
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Received on Fri Oct 28 2011 - 13:57:33 EDT