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Thursday, December 4, 2014

Kenya And Its Al-Shabab Problem

Link: Al-Shabaab Killing Kenyan Civilians

We don't hear much in the news about Somalia anymore.  It only makes sense that when U.S. soldiers were involved in Somalia that the American media would be much more focused on the Horn of Africa.  I have no specifics, but I'm sure our military and clandestine folks occasionally have business in Somalia.  It very difficult to gauge the level of progress in attempts to bring peace and stability to the Somali people.  In early October 2014, soldiers of the internationally recognized government retook Barawe, which had been an important base of operations for Al-Shabaab.  With Moqdishu under total government control, and the African Union (AU) continuing its anti-Al-Shabaab campaign in Somalia, I started to consider the possibility of a war-free east Africa.  The events of the last week, which are highlighted in the link, brought me back to reality quickly.

On a personal level, I have greater interest in Kenya than I do Somalia.  I have lived in Kenya and have numerous Kenyan friends.  I'm certainly not disinterested in Somalia; its just never been on my list of "places to visit before I flatline".  But as circumstances would have it, a porous border and "easy targets of opportunity" have obliged me to refresh myself on the current state of affairs in Somalia.  Somali troubles have been easily exported into Kenya, and the Kenyan national defense options appear to be limited.  Al-Shabaab (AS) is crossing the Kenya/Somali border at will and conducting acts of violence against Kenyan civilians.  Its true that the Kenyan military is participating in the African Union initiatives in Kenya, and AS is using this as an excuse to execute innocent Kenyans.  The ability of AS to conduct operations in all corners of Kenya is quite surprising and alarming (please see map in link).  When AS was part of the Islamic conservative movement that attempted to govern Moqdishu at one time, they occasionally appeared to be interested in reform.  Any sense of objectivity and progressive thinking has since disappeared, as AS has embraced the habit of executing non-Muslims out-of-hand.  Over the past few decades, the Kenyan people have busied themselves with working towards a democratic and corruption-free electoral process.  Kenyans have also been very focused on developing an economy that creates jobs and opportunity for all.  The specter of terrorism reared its ugly head in 1998 with the Al-Qaeda attacks on the U.S. Embassies in Nairobi and Dar Es Salaam, but until the last five years or so, Kenyans had no real concern that a shopping mall would get shot up, or that a taxi would be hikacked and all its occupants murdered.  Al-Shabaab has brought that fear home to roost in Kenya, with attacks and fatalities in Mombasa, Nairobi, Wajir, Hindi, and Diani.

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, who has been much more effective and detail-oriented than I expected, has promised that AS attacks in Kenya will only encourage the Kenyan military to be more determined with their activities in Somalia.  Kenyatta seems to be sincerely pissed off regarding the apparent ease with which AS is slipping across the border.  I'm not so surprised with AS' ability to cross the border at will.  But I am perplexed at the complexity of the AS network in Kenya.  How else would they be able to support attacks in Diani (in the southeast), Wajir up north in the rocky desert, and also in Eastleigh, just outside of Nairobi?  In an otherwise accurate and valuable article, one point in the link causes a bit of heartburn.  I don't think its fair to label the Kenyan security forces as "ill-equipped".  Its fair to question the training and ability of the soldier assigned to whatever equipment, but I believe that the Kenyan military and security forces have recently upgraded some of its more important equipment.  As is apparent to anyone who watches the international news or reads the newspaper, Kenya is a very close ally of the United States.  It is also the second home (at least by heritage) of President Barrack Obama.  No one can convince me that our military, et al, would allow the Kenyans to take on experienced, sociopathic terrorists with outdated or broken equipment.  Its possible that I'm wrong, but I wouldn't bet on it.

So Kenya has a real problem.  Even as AS gets pushed to the edge in Somalia, it appears to be very mobile and effective in Kenya.  Might AS move its operations from Somalia to Kenya?  No doubt there are many jobless, hungry young people in the townships outside of Nairobi and Mombasa who are waiting for a message of deliverance.  In order to be effective in that type of outreach operation, terrorist groups must have access to cash.  Part of the seduction of the young population is the sharing of wealth.  In this instance, AS will probably be limited to using the "change for the better" argument by itself, but it is possible that AS has stepped up its activities in Kenya as a prelude to relocation.  To resolve this problem, Kenyatta has the option of basically putting the fight into the hands of the Americans.  I'm sure it wouldn't be the first time that an African leader made that kind of decision.  Alongside asking for planning and strategy support, Kenyatta must also ask for assistance with resources.  If he effectively demonstrates that he is one hundred percent dedicated to the complete destruction of AS, he will find to better ally than the United States of America.   

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