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Kenya goes to war

And so it’s ‘War on Al-Shabaab’. In an effort to beef up security on its border and protect Kenyan citizens and foreign visitors, the government has decided to take the bull by the horns, send its forces in Somalia and do battle with Al-Shabaab.

According to Defense Minister Yusuf Haji and Internal Security Minister George Saitoti, the venture into Somalia, which has been dubbed ‘Operation Linda Nchi’ (‘protect the country’), was triggered by a series of provocations by the Al-Shabaab.

The two gave a chronology of Al-Shabaab attacks on Kenya to a parliamentary committee headed by Mr. Adan Keynan. In 2009, the militia attacked Jajabu police post. In 2010 they launched an attack on the General Service Unit (GSU) in Liboi and in July this year they laid mines and other explosives targeting police and the military at the border and have since then been raiding the Kenyan border.

For its part Al-Shabaab responded through its spokesman to issue threats to the Kenyan government. ”If your government ignores our calls to stop its aggression on Somali soil, we will strike at the heart of your interests”, Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage was reported as saying. “The bloody battles that will ensue as a result of this incursion will most likely disrupt the social equilibrium and imperil the lives of hundreds of thousands of civilians”, he continued.

If the reports coming in from the military are anything to go by, the Kenyan troops who are being supported by Somalia Transitional Federal Government forces, have killed 75 Al-Shabaab terrorists and have managed to secure the towns of Qoqani, Tabda and Afmadow in Somalia. So far, so good.

The Forum applauds the move to tighten security for Kenyan residents and indeed, foreign visitors to our country. We have written before that a government’s first duty is defend its citizens and its territorial integrity (The Price of Piracy, October 6).  Moreover, we believe the current military action might have the long-term benefit of securing stability throughout Kenya’s northeastern borderland, without which we cannot home to become a ‘middle-income”, stable country.


Al-Shabaab - not just a 'rag-tag' bunch of terrorists

The Forum, however, are under no illusions and nor should anyone else be: fighting Al-Shabaab will be a big challenge. Al Shabaab as a group is almost faceless. Its forces and supporters can melt away into the desert and the scrubland (and return later), and it is alleged to have recruits even on Kenyan soil who could strike at the heart of our country.

The UK newspaper The Daily Telegraph reported fears expressed by western diplomats to the effect that although they thought Kenya’s military was necessary, the move might expose the country to the kind of attacks that occurred in Kampala. “Al-Shabaab has already made clear threats on Nairobi and this move will only make the chance of something happening here more likely”, one commentator was quoted as saying.

The Forum are not underestimating the capacity of Kenya’s armed forces to step up to the game but this is the first time our military will be facing an external enemy, the first time they have been in action since action against the ‘Shiftas’ in the mid-1960s and they are facing a terrorist group which has terrorised its own people for years.

This will not be a “jolly little war’ (they never are) and it is unlikely to be ‘over by Christmas’ (in that the ramifications of Kenya’s armed intervention will reverberate for a long time to come). Nor will talk of Al-Shabaab being a ‘rag tag’ force, or swaggering talk of a ‘mother of all battles’ do anyone any good.

The Forum, for a variety or reasons, therefore counsels caution and an objective appreciation of a realistic outcome to the conflict.

The Kenyan government and its military leaders must have clear, achievable aims in mind, together with a timescale for action and an ‘exit strategy’. They should know now whether their plan is to destroy Al-Shabaab (an unlikely prospect), or, for example, build a buffer zone between Kenya and Somalia. They should be clear whether the current action is a border raid or, at least at a sub-regional level, a full-scale invasion. And whilst the Forum does not want to act the part of an armchair strategist, Kenya’s government and military leaders should wary of getting bogged down in Kismayo where the terrorists ‘Improvised Explosive Devices’ might prove more effective than a tank.

Kenya’s military action in Somalia will not be easy, it may well not end soon but it had to be done. We should all now be on alert and pray for our armed forces.

Related Forum posting – ‘The Al-Shabaab Mennace’, August 8, 2011

[Long-term, war is not the solution – Tomorrow’s posting will look at what can be done for Somalia.]

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