Six months on from Kenyan Defense Forces (KDF) crossing the border into Somalia and the African Union in Somalia (Amisom) forces seem to be bogged down both literally and figuratively. That may be about to change, however.
Two experienced military analysts have been telling the Kenya Forum their views on what is happening militarily in Somalia, what they believe is about to happen, and of their concerns. Both are experienced former military officers and both advise on security matters in East Africa.
WAITING ON THE WEATHER
One told the Forum that Kenya’s forces are currently “held to a line” in southern Somalia and at present are not moving beyond it. “At present”, he said, “the KDF are not moving and are not really attempting to engage the Al-Shabaab fighters”.
One of the main reasons he gave for the present stalemate was the weather. “It’s the rainy season”, he said, “and the KDF does not want to try and move forward in the mud. They’ll wait for dryer weather”.
Asked whether to date the military incursion has had the desired effect, the security advisor was somewhat circumspect.
THE ‘BAD GUYS’ ARE STILL THERE
“The border isn’t closed”, he said, “So people and goods are moving both ways across it and of course some of the ‘bad guys’ are based in the North East and Eastern regions of Kenya anyway and they are pretty much still there”.
The second analyst and security advisor agreed with this analysis but told the Forum that the Amisom forces, including the KDF, would move on to attack the port of Kismayo. He however stressed some concerns at the prospect.
“It took the Ugandan forces that went into Mogadishu in 2007 nearly two years to gain the necessary experience of urban combat”, he told the Forum. “They were of course excellent bush fighters and had gained a lot of experience of that sort of combat in actions against the Lord’s Resistance Army but fighting street by street is a different matter”.
He also raised another interesting point. “When I was in Mogadishu at the time I saw 60 bodies, Ugandan troops who had been killed, but the Ugandan military announced 10 dead. They had a policy of only admitting to one-in-ten military casualties”. Is that still the policy, the Kenya Forum wonders?
Kenyan forces readiness for urban fighting is not the only concern.
The Kenya Forum noted expert advice in the first posting it published on the military action in Somalia back on October 19, 2011 (‘Operation Linda Nchi: Kenya goes to war in Somalia’), the advice being that both the Kenyan government and its military leaders (one of whom, Maj. Gen. S. N. Karanja, is now the Deputy Commander of Amisom forces in Somalia) to be “wary of getting bogged down in Kismayo”.
In November of last year in ‘Operation Linda Nchi: Assessing Kenya’s military action in Somalia’, we quoted a military expert who said that “controlling Kismayo does not significantly address insecurity”.
And in December we quoted a KDF briefing that stated: “As they approach Kismayo it is likely that [Al-Shabaab] resistance will stiffen”.
The concerns raised by experts then are little changed now, namely that Kenyan forces may not be supplied with the right equipment, such as body armour, that will help them operate in an urban scenario in which they will encounter ambushes and roadside Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) on the streets of Kismayo.
For the sake of military forces in Somalia and for the success of the operation, we hope those concerns have been addressed before an attack on Kismayo.