marches into Somalia but can't see the enemy
Originally published: December 17, 2011 10:49 AM
Updated: December 17, 2011 1:31 PM
By The Associated Press KATHARINE HOURELD (Associated Press)
UR GARBO, Somalia - (AP) -- Kenyan troops marched into this decaying
Somali fishing village two months ago, but the al-Qaida-linked militants
they came to hunt are nowhere to be seen.
The Kenyan military says it's getting ready to push forward with its
offensive against the al-Shabab
who are blamed for attacks on Kenyan soil including tourist kidnappings.
For now, though, the soldiers spend their days among ramshackle huts and
along the sandy shoreline without cover or body armor.
"The more they delay, the more time al-Shabab has to prepare. They have
already been making strong propaganda to make people afraid," Somali
government spokesman Abdirahman Omar
"The confidence of people that al-Shabab will be defeated is dying down."
The town of Bur Garbo is only 60 miles (100 kilometers) away from Kismayo,
the insurgency's main stronghold. Residents report that al-Shabab militants
already are digging trenches and tunnels around another strategically
located town in the area.
But the militants in Bur Garbo have retreated to heavily wooded banks
across a creek, where they occasionally exchange potshots across the river
with the Kenyan soldiers.
"We haven't really seen much of the enemy," said the soldier in charge of
the village, Maj. Solomon Wandege. "But we know they are there and we are
on our guard."
Around him, mud and stick houses lean drunkenly over footpaths overgrown
with weeds. On the beach, bleached fishing boats bake in the sun -- the
Kenyans have forbidden them to go out too far "for security reasons." Near
the green patch cleared as a helicopter landing, soldiers have thrown
camouflage mesh over artillery guns. So far, there's been no one to shoot
In January, Somalia's civil war will enter its 21st year. The Kenyans are
just the latest in a long line of forces to arrive in Bur Garbo. They have
Humvees, helicopters, and ration packs with sweet canned pineapple,
Weetabix and powdered milk for tea. But there are no Kenyan civilians along
to reach out to Somali civilians. Nation-building, the Kenyans insist, is
not on the cards.
As any Somali will tell you, it's easy to take ground in Somalia. It's
holding it that's hard. Just ask the Americans. Their involvement, and that
of a subsequent U.N. mission, ended in 1994 after Somali fighters shot down
two U.S. Black Hawk helicopters, killing 18 American servicemen. A
generation later, nothing has changed.
"We have never seen a government here," said 19-year-old Khadija Ali
Ibrahim, folding her arms across her long black robes.
She'd like someone to set one up, she said, because she thinks it could
help people. Right now the town is loosely governed by elders, but they
don't have the power or resources to make any improvements. Ibrahim has
never been further from her home in her life than Kismayo -- where the
Kenyans say they now are heading.
"We are here to defeat al-Shabab. We are committed," said Kenyan Maj. Seif
Rashid, who carries two magazines of ammunition velcroed across his chest.
"So far we've had a degree of acceptance because we've brought an element
of security. But unless people's lives improve, they will eventually turn
The Kenyans have been counting on international aid groups to prop up their
counterinsurgency campaign -- the phrase "hearts and minds" crops up
repeatedly in conversations with the soldiers. But the humanitarians say
they target the weakest, not the most strategically important, and that
they're not interested in following the Kenyan army around.
The Kenyans may find it hard to explain these distinctions to the Somalis,
especially since they shut down the town's two main revenue sources --
fishing and the charcoal trade -- because they didn't want strange boats
coming close to shore.
"We want the rest of the world to assist us. There is insecurity here.
There is no food," said Mohamed Farah Ali, the bearded commander of the
local Somali forces in town.
The Kenyans describe the Somali fighters as government soldiers, but
they're really closer to a clan militia. The weak U.N.-backed government
only holds onto the capital with the help of nearly 10,000African
Government forces in the capital are paid for by Italy and the U.S. Somali
government influence in Bur Garbo is nil. The Somalis here say they are
paid by the Kenyans.
They have rifles from the Kenyans too, and uniforms, they say, motioning to
the olive green trousers they wear above the plastic flip flops. Since the
Kenyans are paying them -- for now -- they don't have to prey on the
civilian population. Or so the families say, as the soldiers lean in to
listen to the journalists' questions.
But if the Kenyans leave, or there's a problem with payments, or not enough
to eat, then the Somali fighters may start to extract the type of taxes
that eventually made al-Shabab so unpopular here.
And the militia, or its heirs, will be waiting somewhere, ready to
re-emerge. For now, they are just across the river.
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may
not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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Received on Mon Dec 19 2011 - 11:05:38 EST