[Dehai-WN] TheEastAfrican.co.ke: Why Kenya is not making any strides in the war against Al Shabaab two months into incursion

From: Berhane Habtemariam <Berhane.Habtemariam_at_gmx.de_at_dehai.org>
Date: Mon, 12 Dec 2011 17:29:42 +0100

Why Kenya is not making any strides in the war against Al Shabaab two months
into incursion

By FRED OLUOCH ( <javascript:void(0);> email the author)

Posted Monday, December 12 2011 at 00:00

The Kenyan Defence Forces in Somalia have not made any significant
territorial progress over the past one month, but the military publicity
department is not ready to reveal that they have stalled because of factors
beyond their control - a situation that has left Nairobi rethinking its
approach to the incursion against the Al Shabaab militia.

The force on the southern front that entered Somalia through Kiunga is stuck
in Burgabo, 60km from the Kenyan border, where they will have to cross a
deep creek. The only advance being realised is on the central front, that
recently took Bilis Qooqaani and is preparing to take Afmadow. The two teams
are eventually meant to meet in Kismayu.

Investigations by The East-African have revealed that a number of logistical
and political issues have forced the KDF to go slow contrary to the initial
plan for a swift operation.

There are four major factors that have bogged down the military campaign.
They are: Lack of finances to run a long-drawn war; the differences between
interested parties over whether to divide Somalia into autonomous regions or
maintain one united country; differences over the option to engage Al
Shabaab in a political dialogue, and the ambivalence of Somalia's President
Sheikh Shariff Ahmed.

Already, the Kenya public and the politicians have started questioning
whether the Kenyan involvement in Somalia is likely to last longer than was
initially intended.

However, Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) spokesperson Maj Emmanuel Chirchir
maintained that the reason the Kenyan advance has slowed down is because
they are combining the offensive angle with humanitarian operations. "When
we started the operation we had the offensive, defensive and humanitarian
operations components. At the strategic level, the long term goal still
remains but at the tactical level, things have to change every now and then
because you are dealing with human beings," he said.
Still, Kenya has support around the world for entering Somalia. Experts on
Somalia argue that it would be a disaster if Kenya came out of Somalia with
egg on its face or without substantially crippling Al Shabaab, as this would
embolden the militia group to such an extent that the international
community would not be able to deal with.

The importance of Kenya's intervention has been recognised by the UN
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who last week said in Nairobi that Kenya's
leadership role in efforts to stabilise Somalia, has presented an
opportunity to the people of Somalia to realise stability and prosperity
after 20 years of civil war.

The Kenya government has secured moral and political support from various
nations and organisations including the Commonwealth, the AU, the EU, the
Indian Ocean Rim Association, the EAC, the ACP and Comesa.

But the war is not as simple as Kenyans were made to believe when the
military entered Somalia in October. For a start, Kenya was not prepared for
a long-drawn-out war, and is already finding its resources stretched. To
maintain two infantry fronts, navy and fighter jets on the ground for this
long is proving to be a major financial strain and sources revealed that
Kenya has been reaching out to the United States and other Western allies
for help.

It is estimated that it costs Ksh210 million ($233,000) per month to keep
the soldiers in the battlefield. This amount comprises the cost of moving
the troops and supplying them with food and water, communication and medical

That is part of the reason why the government last Wednesday sought the
approval of parliament (and got it) to allow Kenyan forces to be placed
under the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom) - to offset costs.

In parliament, a number of MPs questioned the country's war strategy in
Somalia, with others calling for a short war. Kenya's military has no
experience in counter-insurgency, and the country needs logistic support
from its allies. Al Shabaab is fighting a classic guerrilla war by melting
into the civilian population and forcing the KDF to fight on its terms. The
United States is providing Kenya with satellite images of real time
movements of Shabaab and deploying drones, but the militia's tactics remains
a challenge for a conventional army.

Part of the reason why the Ethiopians overcame the Union of Islamic Courts
in two weeks in 2006 is because of a superior air force, especially
helicopter gunships.

The second reason for the slow progress by the KDF is the differences among
interested parties over whether to maintain a united Somalia with power
concentrated in the centre or split the country into various autonomous
regions. These interested parties include Kenya, Ethiopia, the TFG, a number
of Western countries led by US, and the Somali people.

Kenya is proposing the division of Somalia into eight autonomous regions:
Central region or Hiran; Somaliland; Puntland; Bay Bakool; Jubaland;
Shabelle; Gedo and Mogadishu, commonly known as Banadir.

Sources revealed that the proposal involves various regions governing
themselves but maintaining strong contact with the centre through a
rotational presidency. However, President Shariff, who comes from Johar near
Mogadishu, is strongly opposed to the idea of autonomous regions.

Currently, there are three autonomous regions - Somaliland, Puntland and the
central region of Galmudug, commonly known as Hiran. Unlike the secessionist
Somaliland region in northwestern Somalia, Galmudug, is not trying to get
international recognition as a separate nation. It considers itself an
autonomous state within the larger federal republic of Somalia. Galmudug was
established on August 14, 2006 and Mohamed Warsame Ali "Kiimiko" was elected

Kenya's Foreign Affairs Minister Moses Wetangula refused to be drawn into
discussing the progress of the war. He also denied that Kenya is seeking to
divide Somalia into autonomous regions, but argued that the Somalia
Transitional Charter that created TFG says that Somalia shall be a federal
government, but leaves how to go about it to the Somali people.

"If it is the process that will bring peace to Somalia, then Kenya will
support it. But we want it to be Somalia-driven, not Kenya-driven," he said.

Rashid Abdi, a specialist on Somalia with the International Crisis Group,
noted that the international community has not yet learned the lesson that
re-establishing a European-style centralised state based in Mogadishu is
almost certain to fail, because for most Somalis, their only experience with
the central government is that of predation.

"Since Independence, one clan, or group of clans, has always used its
control of the centre to grab most of the resources and deny them to rival
clans. Thus, whenever a new transitional government is created, Somalis are
naturally wary and give it limited, or no support, fearing it will only be
used to dominate and marginalise them," he said.

Amisom spokesperson Paddy Asnkunda, told The EastAfrican that the peace
process is expected to produce peaceful federated states, working more or
less autonomously with a central authority in Mogadishu. He, however,
maintained that the Somali political dialogue can go on even without the
participation of Al Shabaab because, as he put it, "They have no support
among the people and that's what matters. They have lost political
legitimacy by killing innocents."

Autonomous regions aside, the focus is shifting to President Sheikh Shariff
Ahmed and his role in the conduct of the war. After what appeared to be a
misunderstanding in the early stages when he questioned Kenya's intentions
in Somalia, it is now emerging that Sheikh Shariff is a strong believer in
Wahhabism, which is close to the Al Shabaab philosophy.

He is associated with the Salafi group that believes strongly in Sharia law.
His kitchen Cabinet, called Al Sheikh, are mostly hardline Islamists, who
blame him for appearing moderate. This group believes that the Djibouti
agreement that brought together hardliners and secularists, is watering down
the tenets of Islam.

While he remains ambivalent over the Kenya intervention, the TFG's official
mandate ends in August next year without initiating the expected Somalia
national political dialogue. The concern for Kenya is that given the
divisive politics and the short timeframe, it is unlikely the TFG will
deliver significant progress on key transitional objectives, such as
stabilising Somalia and delivering a permanent constitution.

That is why Kenya is looking at alternative ways of pacifying Somalia by
trying to persuade the international community to concentrate its support on
the more effective local entities, until a more appropriate and effective
national government is negotiated.

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