In Somalia, Kenya Anticipates Gains Against al Shabab [Updated]

As I noted last week, many observers feel pessimistic about the long-term prospects of Kenya’s invasion of southern Somalia. In the short term, however, Kenya is making gains against al Shabab, the Muslim rebel force that operates in the region.

Fierce fighting is expected this week in the towns of Afmadow (see this map, and more reporting here) and Kismayo, (map). Kenyan planes bombed Kismayo this weekend. Taking these towns would deprive al Shabab of some of its key remaining strongholds, and could push the rebels into more remote areas.

Kenya is reportedly receiving Western military aid in its campaign:

Maj. Emmanuel Chirchir, said that the United States or France, or possibly both, had stepped up airstrikes in the past few days, killing a number of Shabab militants. The French Navy has also shelled rebel positions from the sea, Kenyan officials said.

The United States and France have not confirmed involvement in Somalia.

If Western military powers have indeed joined the conflict, analysts said, it could mark a turning point against the Shabab, a ruthless militant group that has pledged allegiance to Al Qaeda. It controls much of southern Somalia, though its young fighters and battered pick-up trucks are deemed no match for a sophisticated army.

US officials are actively discussing how best to help Kenya.

If Kenya and its allies succeed in taking territory from al Shabab, the question will be what comes next. Will Kenya attempt to hold this territory? If so, the estimated 2,000-3,000 troops it has deployed may not be enough for the task. Next, what role will Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG), which has de jure authority over southern Somalia, play in administering this territory? Will Kenya, in conjunction with the TFG and African Union troops, attempt to wipe out al Shabab completely, or will Kenya be content to take major cities and drive al Shabab into the bush? How, in other words, will Kenya avoid the mistakes Ethiopia made during its occupation of Somalia from 2006 to 2009, when it smashed Somalia’s Islamists but then faced persistent guerrilla attacks? The Kenyan press, meanwhile, is asking about the exit strategy.

Kenya seems poised to make gains on the battlefield. But the tricky politics of southern Somalia could prove harder to navigate.

UPDATE:

BBC:

Somalia’s President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed has said his transitional government is opposed to Kenya’s military incursion into Somalia.

[...]

Speaking to journalists at the scene of recent fighting in Mogadishu, Mr Ahmed said Kenyan support in terms of training and logistics was welcome but his government and the people of Somalia were opposed to the presence of the Kenyan army.

The BBC’s East Africa correspondent, Will Ross, says his comments put the Kenyan government in a very difficult position.

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12 thoughts on “In Somalia, Kenya Anticipates Gains Against al Shabab [Updated]

  1. Kenya’s operation has a chance of securing Lower Juba if the rest of the regional pieces fall into place. This way Ethiopia’s national occupation is replaced by a network of Somalia’s neighbors. Ahmed’s comments not be sincere given the widespread use of disinformation, but he has put a scare into his own people. Either way regional interaction is vital to stabilizing the country.

    • Secured in what sense? Politically there are too many people and institutions committed to a single Somalia with no border changes. Additionally the Kenyan military will be a constant target which will make the presence unpopular. No matter what the Kenyan government does, this is going to be a tricky situation.

      • Constant attacks on the Kenyan military will result in reprisal attacks on the Somali minority in Kenya, by both the Kenyan military and ordinary Kenyans. We’ve watched the same movie all over Sub-Saharan Africa since at least the 1950′s.

        Anyone who knows Kenya understands that Kenyans can do violence just as well as Al Shabab (read up on the Mau Mau).

        In a perverse way, the militarized foreign policy being pushed by the US in response to the “War on Terror” may trigger a “religious war” between Muslims and Christians in the Sahel. (One can easily see a common thread running from Ivory Coast to the Horn).

      • Very sticky, to be sure. Secured is a relative term in Somalia, and so not the best word to use. I would oppose Kenya’s mission if it was acting unilaterally, but its cooperation is integral to AMISOM’s 2012 operations. If al-Shabaab’s territory must be gradually encroached upon, a border strategy seems more practical than a national occupation, or waiting for the TFG to work its way out of Modadishu.

      • From the BBC there’s a suggestion of Kenya setting up a semi-autonomous buffer state which would nicely stop any movements by Al-Shabab towards Kenya. While the U.S, the Somali TFG and many others wouldn’t be pleased I don’t think there would be much pressure from the more powerful states over this, especially if it shows success. I have to admit it does sound like a relatively reasonable strategy if enough time, training, funding and intelligence has been devoted to it but we have to remember this has not been declared an official policy yet.

        http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-15499534

  2. Pingback: U.S. not participating in Kenyan offensive in Somalia, says State Department « AfriCommons Blog

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    • It’s a pity that you can’t see the big picture. Drones are a tactical tool, they are not a strategic game changer.

      AQIM did not emerge from a vacuum, they are a result of a plethora of misguided government policies and oppression. They are not angels, but unless they directly threaten US citizens, they are best left alone.

      As you know, North Africa is in a state of flux. It will be extremely stupid to promote a tactical tool when the wider strategic picture is yet to be fully appreciated.

      • AQIM is from the more radical of militant Islamist groups in the region. Though they’re more the problem of local governments they are hardly harmless. Additionally drone strikes have shown an ability to seriously damage AQ in Afghanistan and Iraq. Even if Al Qaeda had more popularity it would be hard to find recruits who could match the 1970s/1980s credentials of the founding members.
        As for North Africa itself, while I would prefer to see who is winning first you don’t really have that luxury in times of change. The best you can do is try to avoid committing yourself to something big.

      • Is AQ still the major problem in Afghanistan? I think you are missing the forest for the trees.

        Was the recent violence in Afghanistan triggered by AQ or the Taliban? What exactly is the difference between AQ and the Taliban? Is the Taliban a threat to US interests outside Afghanistan?

        Ask you self the same questions about AQIM and the local Salafists or Al Shabab and AQ.

  4. Maduka,

    AQIM is threatening everybody. The States for instance and they say so and human evolution. They want a khalifat et they kill. How to leave them where they are?

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