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OPERATION ‘LINDA NCHI’: KENYA’S INCURSION INTO SOMALIA – KENYA FORUM EXCLUSIVE

WHERE ARE WE NOW, TWO MONTHS ON?

It has been some two months since Kenyan military forces crossed the border into Somalia. A source has provided the Kenya Forum with a brief from within the Kenya Defence Force (KDF) on the current situation and status of Kenya’s incursion into Somalia.

In early October 2011 Kenya invoked Article 51 of the United Nations charter on ‘the right to self defence’ and began to pursue the Al-Shabaab terrorist group into Somalia. Land incursions into Kenya territory by Al-Shabaab forces had been going on for some time and included the use of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), landmines, roadside bombs, and raids by fighters using small arms and Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPGs) against Kenyan forces on the Somali border in retaliation for Kenya’s support given to anti-Al-Shabaab militias. The initial operations however, were prompted not by incursions into Kenyan territory on land and sea by Al-Shabaab and local ‘pirates’ but primarily because of effect on international tourism in Kenya of the kidnapping of British and French tourists from Kenyan resorts.

THREE PRONGED ATTACK

Initial operations began on three fronts: North from El-Wak towards Fafadun and Bardere; in the centre through Dhobley and on towards Bibi and Afmadow; and in the South up the coast towards Kuday. All three prongs of the attack were due to converge (eventually) on the town of Kismayu on the coast.

The Daily Nation reported on December 19 that ‘Kenyan troops were advancing toward Kismayu in a final push to defeat the militants’ after ‘military sources’ announced that the key town of Afmadow, ‘considered the gateway to Kismayu’ had been abandoned by Al-Shabbaab fighters.

Quoted in The Star a day later, Kenya’s Defence Assistant Minister Joseph ole Nkaissery said that the war in Somali was going well: “Our defence forces are doing a remarkable job”, he said, and that “piracy will be arrested completely”.

The back page of the Daily Nation on the same day quoted Mr Nkaissery as declaring that, “The KDF has maintained its momentum and will soon conclude the operation after taking the remaining hot zones”.

The Kenya Forum hopes Joseph Nkaissery is right but cautions that these are either bold, or even rash, declarations to make.

THE ‘FINAL PUSH’ OR BOGGED DOWN AND ‘RETHINKING’?

The East African a week before had been more circumspect. A two page article under the headline ‘Why Kenya is not making any strides in the war against Al-Shabaab two months into the incursion’, its ‘Special Correspondent’ Fred Oluoch reported that, ‘The Kenyan Defence Forces in Somalia have not made any significant territorial progress over the past month, but the military publicity department is not ready to reveal that they have stalled because of factors beyond their control’. Nairobi was ‘rethinking its approach to the incursion’, he wrote.

The briefing received by the Kenya Forum would seem to be more in line with Fred Oluoch’s assessment than that of Assistant Minister Nkaissery.

‘SLOWED DOWN’ AND ‘INCONSISTENCIES’

The progress of the KDF, the report says, ‘has been slowed by weather conditions and inconsistencies in the performance of ‘forward’ troops, i.e., Transitional Federal Government (TGF) friendly militias such as Chiambone Brigade and Ahla Wa Sunna Jamathe. The Kenyans are trying to avoid direct engagement and provide support although this has proved more challenging than it sounds and KDF forces have regularly become involved in direct engagements with Al-Shabaab forces’.

‘The Kenyans have not found the intervention easy’, the report reads, ‘the weather has turned the ground into a World War I type of battlefield, slowing progress’.

‘A NEW KIND OF FIGHTING’ IN PROSPECT

‘The Kenyans have not managed to avoid becoming actively engaged in combat operations’, the report continues, ‘which was meant to be the role of their local proxies.  As they approach Kismayu it is likely that resistance will stiffen and the KDF will face a new kind of fighting – urban warfare, which the very experienced Ugandan forces in Mogadishu took the best part of two years to adapt to’.

‘At present operations have paused’, the report SAYS, ‘with each prong of attack between 50 and 75 per cent completed’.

The briefing also acknowledged that the KDF have taken casualties but the figures have not been released to the media.

REPLACING KENYAN FORCES?

According to the briefing received by the Kenya Forum, the KDF is currently negotiating with the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and the international community regarding the ultimate replacement of Kenyan forces by African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) troops once objectives have been met. This, the report says, ‘is the Kenyan preferred option but would require an increase in AMISOM’s troop strength from the current 12,000 to the African Union-agreed ceiling of 20,000 and significantly more international funding via the UN’.

However, the report says, ‘the current offer is to incorporate KDF troops into the AMISOM mission, which is not what the KDF wants. ‘The last thing they [the Kenyans] want’, says the report, ‘is to become involved in a long peace-enforcement operation on their own doorstep and in very difficult terrain’.

‘With the likely resolution being the incorporation of KDF forces into AMISOM rather than the replacement of KDF forces by other forces’, the briefing concludes, ‘the best general term for the current state of operations is “mired”’.

TOMORROW IN THE KENYA FOUM: OPERATION LINDA NCHI AND KENYA’S INCURSION INTO SOMALIA – AN ASSESSMENT OF THE ‘BIG ISSUES’

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