A lot to lose - Kenya's Somali gambit

 
Kenyan troops near Somali border Questions are being asked about why Kenya's army is in Somalia

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The international hotels here are starting to empty; the restaurants and bars are bringing their tables in off the streets; and a queasy, quiet sense of dread is coiling itself round Nairobi, as the country waits to see what - beyond the two grenade attacks this week - Kenya's military offensive inside neighbouring Somalia might yet provoke by way of retaliation.

Kenya's government is trying to sound confident. The deputy interior minister assured me that the country was "safe for tourists", and that foreigners have no reason to stay away despite clear threats from the militant Somali group al-Shabab.

Let us hope he is right. Kenya's vital tourism sector has fallen victim in the past to unnecessarily shrill foreign travel advisories.

But Kenya's unexpected military incursion into southern Somalia is a dramatic development for a country that has spent years carefully trying to avoid just such an entanglement.

So was it a mistake? That seems to be the main question on the lips of aid workers, diplomats and a variety of officials I have been speaking to here over the past few days.

Some Somali experts believe this was a long-planned operation, arranged with the covert support of the US and other western allies.

The theory goes that the recent kidnappings of foreigners in Kenya were merely a convenient pretext for the invasion - that al-Shabab has been fatally weakened by its "horrific ineptitude" in the face of the famine and its dwindling foreign support, and that the next few months could see the militant group ousted from its key port of Kismayo and effectively finished off inside Somalia.

A slightly more modest theory holds that Kenya has indeed been planning for a limited military intervention to build a more effective buffer zone along the border inside Somalia - where it already co-operates with various ineffective local militias opposed to al-Shabab and into which it intends to push some of the tens of thousands of Somali refugees now camped in Kenya.

A senior western aid source told me that the UN secretary general has already called Kenya's prime minister to warn him against any attempt to violate international law by expelling refugees.

Potential mistake

Then there is the chaos theory. Kenya - enraged by the kidnappings and the damage to its tourism industry and development plans - lashed out without warning or much planning, catching everyone off guard and sending its untested army into what could well prove to be a very dangerous trap.

My sense is that Kenya has been planning something for a while - but there is huge confusion about its tactics, goals and exit strategy.

At this stage, if feels like a potentially huge mistake for one of Africa's most dynamic economies.

Already there are concerns that Kenyan troops are getting bogged down by seasonal rains and struggling to re-supply.

Al-Shabab has offered little resistance so far, but that seems likely to change amid reports that the group is rushing experienced fighters to the frontlines.

If this is a trap, it could be sprung very soon.

As for the strength of al-Shabab - there's no question that an already fragmented organisation has been weakened.

But in recent weeks it has still managed to pull off a string of spectacular attacks in Mogadishu, culminating in the ambush and elimination of an entire Burundian peacekeeping platoon, which, despite official denials, appears to have caused the death of more than 60 soldiers.

Sense of dread

And what if the Kenyan offensive goes well, and Kismayo falls?

Al-Shabab may retreat but the vacuum will inevitably be filled by a wasp's nest of other clan rivalries.

Or does Kenya plan to stay on, perhaps looking for an international peacekeeping mandate?

The Ethiopians - who also pushed into Somalia in 2006 - will be watching Kenya's fortunes closely.

As for what impact all this could have on Somalia's famine - I will write about that in more detail in another blog, but the UN has already expressed concern and, with planting season at hand, it is hard to imagine how an upsurge in fighting could be anything but bad news for Somalia's vulnerable population.

 
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  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 27.

    Western countries are scrambling for African resources. This neo-imperialist scramble is consistent with NATO’s battering of Libya, as well as close collaboration between US & France.
    Not only can President Obama order assassination of individuals; evidently President is no longer obliged to notify US Congress or US people of engagement in war. When did such activity become non-impeachable?

  • rate this
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    Comment number 26.

    TFG only clings to power thanks to US backing. Al-Shabab has thwarted pro-Western TFG. This explains US, French, Kenyan war + constellation of US drone bases ready to strike African countries that "thwart". It's only a matter of time before drone activity occurs in Sudan, Eritrea, Uganda. US Special Forces in Uganda & other Central African countries was the harbinger.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 25.

    BBC, Reuters & NY Times had earlier reported increased US droning in Somalia; coverage dropped, including deadly attacks being carried out NOW. Oct 28, BBC resumed coverage: “US flies drones from Ethiopia to fight Somali militants”. BBC did not view this as act of war. Pretext for Kenyan invasion was “hot pursuit” of kidnap gangs belonging to Al Shabab. Proof? Who needs it?

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 24.

    French naval forces - despite French denials - are sheling coast. US & Frances seem engaged in new war in E. Africa. US is using UAVs (aka Reapers or Hunter Killers) which operate from southern Ethiopia, Arba Minch, as well as from US bases in Djibouti & Seychelles (Indian Ocean). The Reapers began flying missions earlier this year over Somalia.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 23.

    US drones began attacking Somalia days before Kenya incursion, have continued - indicative of US air power being used to pave way for Kenyan advance towards City of Kismayo – main stronghold of Al Shabaab (US government accuses of having links with Al Qaeda). Somali fighters & civilians have been killed over past 2 weeks by US unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in Qoqani, Afmadow & Kismayo.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 22.

    US military has confirmed Obama Administration is engaged in a new war in Horn of Africa. Disclosure comes only days after other Western media outlets, including New York Times & Financial Times, denied US Govt was involved in direct support of Kenyan forces. The war: lethal use of US drones across southern Somalia in air campaign to assist Kenyan ground troops.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 21.

    Kenya does not have the resources and political clout to sustain the kind of operation needed to tame Somali by invasion.Kenya is better off securing its borders from within Kenya and let the super powers interested deal with Somalia directly rather than by proxy. Kenya needs to deal with its structural economic problems including diversification from tourism and internal political reforms.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 20.

    so the point of being battle tested is baseless .. point two never read such an article on bbc about the british forces being highly ineffective in afganistan http://english.aljazeera.net/news/asia/2010/12/20101234516839258.html ;http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-2046572/Afghanistan-war-marks-10-years-decade-failure.html;http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,2034794,00.html;

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 19.

    where do u get ur facts from?? do u just concode stories from ur hotel room.. BATTLEHARDENED in as much as british forces have seen wars from world war 1 and world war 2 , it took help from the americans for them to turn the tide of war ..despite americans not being involved in the confilict n having to enforce a draft

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 18.

    Your Article touches the points, Kenya will loose a lot by this adventure and they will realize their mistakes when lot of body bags arrive in their country and families loose their loved ones. Country going to war and invading illegally another country is a very serious international crime.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 17.

    Regarding US military intervention, of course the US will not attempt another invasion after their disastrous previous attempt, but I believe behind the scenes they must be offering support, just not being the face of the intervention.
    Let us Kenyans unite against outsiders looking to destabilise and plunder from our beautiful country.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 16.

    They have caused a huge blow to tourism - one of our main income sources, and Kenya needs to act swiflty and strongly to show we will not be bullied or intimidated by opportunistic thieves who kidnap and murder for a living...

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 15.

    For too long has Somalia created problems, and about time someone stepped in to try and eliminate rogue elements in the country. Sure people may say it is not our battle or our country for us to get involved in, but let us not forget that this was all initiated by an illegal incursion onto our territory by them first...

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 14.

    Why is it that Kenya is being questioned for trying to protect it's people and industries from foreign attacks? For years now, the instability of the Somali region has negatively impacted on our country.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 13.

    Lieutenant Commander James Stockman reinforced: there is no relationship between aircraft operations in Ethiopia & Kenyan operations in Somalia. He said there are no US military bases in Africa, except in Djibouti.What's really going on here?
    Kenya sent troops into Somalia 2 weeks ago in pursuit of al-Shabaab, which US would like removed for the sake of US-backed Transitional Govt.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 12.

    US has acknowledged sending drone aircraft from Ethiopia to Somalia. US maintains this has nothing to do with Kenya's ongoing military operation. Kenya has vowed to curtail activities of the Somali militant group al-Shabaab. Officials say the drones, piloted by remote control, are only for surveillance & not for airstrikes.
    Really?
    What are they doing dropping food?

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 11.

    Speaking of foreign involvement... Interesting article here about US drones operating from Ethiopia. http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/us-drone-base-in-ethiopia-is-operational/2011/10/27/gIQAznKwMM_story.html

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 10.

    While it is true that Kenya has not proved that the kidnappings were the work of Al Shabaab, in all likelihood they were. So the cost of doing nothing in the long run would have been more costly than the cost of taking them out now especially now when they are at their weakest coz of the famine. Kismayo is not Mogadishu. Kismayo can be conquered, but not Mogadishu. Kenya will succeed in this feat

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 9.

    In all seriousness,can a country send its army to an insurgent infested territory without much planning and proper preparation? when i read this article:its like Kenyans are being asked; how dare you send your weak untested military to a territory that is ruled by experienced militant fighters who just cleared a whole platoon the other day?

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 8.

    It is clear that Kenya's territorial integrity has been violated? Al Shabab have more to lose if they choose to carry out terrorist activities in Kenya. We shouldn't think that attacks wont happen. They will but that is a small price to pay in the long run. Ensuring our borders are respected is important. Plus, could someone tell me why we have to be the only country to host Somali refugees?

 

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