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Taking Advantage of Kenya’s Al-Shabab Pursuit

Talaado 25 October 2011 SMC


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Taking Advantage of Kenya’s Al-Shabab Pursuit

A friend is one who has the same enemies as you have.
Abraham Lincoln

The Kenyan forces’ surprise raid in Dobley and their bombardment of Afmadow, Tabta and other surrounding regions that Al-Shabab control should be seen as an advantage for the Somali people and its Transitional Government in their effort, to end the brutality of Al-Shabab. One would argue that it is not politically convenient to permit a country that you have border disputes with to enter your country with full military force; however, given the current situation, the need to band together and fight the brutality of Al-Shabab far outweighs historical arguments and political differences.

The Transitional Federal Government (TFG) should acknowledge the “Operation Linda Nchi”,  and maintain it as a joint operation between the TFG and Kenya publicly and privately. That being said, Somalis must be able to dictate where Kenyan forces can go and how long they will be able to stay. The goal should be eliminating Al-Shabab with minimum civilian casualty, establishing order in liberated regions, and putting forward an exit plan for Kenyan forces. War is about planning and outsmarting your opponent, and hitting him hard with the maximum force when the opportunity opens, and this is the time to do that.

This is a once-in-a- lifetime opportunity. The fact of the matter is, the TFG does not have the military capacity to force Al-Shabab out of the vast territory that they rule. In reality, it would take the TFG months, if not years, to defeat Al-Shabab, and by that time, the TFG’s mandate will have run out. Secondly, the TFG will not have to stretch its limited resources and army beyond Mogadishu. And since this is the first time Kenyan forces have penetrated deep inside Somalia, and Kenya hosts the largest Somali diaspora and their business, unlike Ethiopia who invaded the country numerous times, it should not provoke unnecessary hostility or tension between the two nations.

Of course, Kenya might have other agendas beyond just “flushing” Al-Shabab out of border regions between Somalia and Kenya, such as creating a buffer zone or simply establishing Azania (proxy state), but that should not be used as an excuse to halt this offensive against Al-Shabab. The priority should be defeating this vicious common enemy, and if the Kenyan forces were able to go beyond Kismayo, they would be much more successful. In fact, if Kenyans simply irritate Al-Shabab and do not annihilate them or weaken them to the point of surrender, Al-Shabab will retaliate and carry out suicide bombings and other hit and run attacks against Kenyan civilians and Kenyan tourists inside Kenya.  For the future security of both nations, Kenya must go beyond Kismayo to end Al-Shabab’s control. Likewise, the TFG should reinforce and expand its offensive against Al-Shabab outside Mogadishu, and it should provide intelligence for the Kenyan forces assuming their understanding of the land and language (dialect) is limited.

Kenya must focus on gaining public support for this operation. The most effective way of doing so would be to downplay PM Meles Zenawi’s support for the operation to avoid provoking Somali public opposition. The Somali public will not take his support for this operation lightly. So, in the interest of practicality, publicizing the support of Zenawi must be avoided at all costs. President Mwai Kibaki and his cabinet must be cautious using nationalism palaver when seeking support of this operation within Kenya and outside because this could alienate the Somalis.

The TFG also has to undertake massive public awareness campaigns seeking Somali support and explaining the presence of the Kenyan forces in Somalia and when they are expected to leave. This will prevent Al-Shabab from using this joint operational offensive against them as a propaganda-recruiting tool to boost their manpower and resources. Let’s face it, war has two faces, the bullet and the media; the latter is superior because the bullet does not have nearly as great a chance of success without the media in modern warfare.  Considering Al-Shabab’s media sharpness, the TFG has to invest the media to cap with Al-Shabab’s propaganda.

Furthermore, Kenyan intelligence and police should not use this operation as an excuse to target innocent Somali civilians and business people in and around Nairobi, and if they do, they should be very cautious because this could cause a public relations disaster.

The TFG should hold Kenyan forces accountable if they engage in any human rights violations inside Somalia.
Finally, the rhetoric that is coming from some of the Kenyan leaders toward crushing piracy all around the Somali coast should be muted completely.  If Kenya wants to keep the support of Somali public, it should focus on Al-Shabab and forget internal Somali issues that do not threaten their immediate stability. Otherwise, the Somali public will see this rhetoric as an agenda to attack other Somali groups beside Al-Shabab. Kenya should leave piracy to the TFG and focus on Al-Shabab.
The TFG should prepare a regional authority in every town that has been taken back from Al-Shabab consisting of local elders and their forces until the dust settles. The government must be clear about when the Kenyan forces will withdraw. Because of our historical border disagreements with Kenya, we cannot take the risk of giving Kenyan forces a permanent base in Somalia or even allowing an extended presence inside Somalia; this operation should be quick and fast to forefend public resentment against this offensive.

We should also remember that as water does not retain constant shape, war and diplomacy are the same.  As Oliver Cromwell said, “Put your trust in God; but be sure to keep your powder dry”. The TFG should hope for the best and prepare for the worst because Kenya’s ultimate agenda is everyone’s guess. However, if this offensive by Kenyan forces against Al-Shabab is straight, as they said, we should see it as an opportunity to decimate Al-Shabab, and we should not speculate about the future but take advantage of Kenyan force’s pursuit of Al-Shabab to end Al-Shabab.

 

The author is student majoring in Macroeconomics and International Politics.
Email: mireh@my.uwstout.edu
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/abdihamit

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