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Operation Somalia: The U.S., Ethiopia and now Kenya
By Aaron Maasho OCTOBER 28, 2011
By Aaron Maasho
Ethiopia did it five years ago, the Americans a while back. Now Kenya has rolled tanks and troops across its arid frontier into lawless Somalia, in another campaign to stamp out a rag-tag militia of Islamist rebels that has stoked terror throughout the region with threats of strikes.
The catalyst for Nairobi’s incursion was a series of kidnappings by Somali gunmen on its soil. A Frenchwoman was bundled off to Somalia from northern Kenya, while a British woman and two female aid workers from Spain, abducted from a refugee camp inside Kenya,  are also being held across the border.
The incidents caused concern over their impact on the country’s vital tourism industry, with Kenya’s forecast 100 billion shillings or revenue this year expected to falter. The likes of Britain and the United States have already issued warnings against travel to some parts of the country.
Kenyans have so far responded with bravado towards their government’s operation against the al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab group. Local channels regularly show high approval ratings for the campaign, some as high as 98 percent.
“The issue of our security is non-negotiable,” one commentator told a TV station in the wake of the announcement. Another chipped in with:  ”We’ve been casual to the extent of endangering our national sovereignty.  Kenya has what it takes to get rid of this dangerous threat once and for all.”
Isn’t that what the Ethiopians said in late 2006?
After repeated threats of jihad against the predominantly Christian nation, Addis Ababa wasted little time in deploying thousands of highly-trained and battle-ready troops to Somalia against the Islamic Courts Union, the precursor to today’s al Shabaab.
It routed them quickly and the group’s leaders retreated to exile, giving way to the much more militant and aggressive al Shabaab. Addis Ababa then found itself bogged down in near-daily bouts of urban warfare and finally withdrew two years later citing mounting costs and a lack of regional will to sort out the situation.
Al Shabaab have since controlled large swathes of southern Somalia against the internationally-backed government’s control of the capital.
Ethiopia’s ill-fated mission followed a U.S. foray in late 1993. In a bid to capture clan leaders who were trampling on the humanitarian relief following the downfall of dictator Siad Barre in 1991, Washington sent soldiers to enforce a U.N.mission.
The operation ended in disaster. Two Black Hawk  choppers were shot down and 18 servicemen killed.  The bodies of several soldiers were dragged through the streets of Mogadishu and a hasty withdrawal followed.
Though Kenyan troops have already encroached inside Somalia on a number of occasions and are well-trained and supplied, questions remain over how they will cope with a potential guerrilla war against fighters hardened on years of skirmishes in the remote region.
With Kenya keeping a tight lid on details of the operation, the media is asking what the desired end game is.  Initially, there was speculation that Kenya wanted to secure a buffer zone along its long, porous frontier with Somalia.
Government spokesman Alfred Mutua said on Thursday the aim was only to dismantle al Shabaab’s network and leave, not spending an hour longer than necessary in Somalia.
Kenyan soldiers may well find themselves in a different scenario to that of Ethiopia.
Ethiopian troops were at the vanguard of the fight against Somalia’s Islamist militants. In this case, an African Union force of 9,000 has more or less secured Mogadishu, Western allies are providing Kenya with technical support and Somali government troops and allied militias are fighting alongside the east African country.
Will Kenya ultimately prove its doubters wrong and secure gains that have eluded its peers? Or will this be another ill-fated operation that will end up in an embarrassing withdrawal?
21 comments so far | Comments RSS
NOV 2, 2011
12:38 PM EDT
I like your insights into this issue. Well, the biggest problem and embarassment in Africa is the AU. The more things chnage with AU, the more it remains the same. It has almost failed to secure a sufficient force from its member states to provide security and stability in Somalia. When Ethiopia ventured into Somalia, it was AU’s responsibility to marshal support from member states to ensure support for Ethiopia but it stood and watched making it apppear like an Ethiopian affair. Now they are doing the same to Kenya. Now that Kenya knows this, its started reaching to the same AU and UN and all friendly neighbours to ensure they install an accountable government and not another mutation of Al Shabaab. When will AU wake up!!!!!!!!
Posted by Votz | Report as abusive
NOV 3, 2011
3:05 PM EDT
The question to be answered is what is the objective of Kenya’s move? That is still unclear but without a very clear and focused approach it may be tough to score big gains against Somali guerrilla fighters. Policies from international powers such as arming one warlord against another in Somalia may have also contributed to the current situation and general unrest. Are several outside forces’ wars also being fought here?
Posted by TomMinney | Report as abusive
NOV 4, 2011
12:52 AM EDT
The Kenyan objectives are 1) degrade the ability of the Al-Shabaab to conduct random raids on Kenyan territory; for too long they have underestimated Kenya’s ability to react militarily. 2) the other objective is to establish a buffer region in the geographical area called Jubaland and this is a reason why the Ogadeni clan who inhabit this region are welcoming of this incursion as they nurse ambitions of their own state much like Somaliland and Puntland.
Posted by NetiaShiundu | Report as abusive
NOV 7, 2011
1:35 PM EST
So whose side are you on? Alshabaab or Kenya?
We will prevail where the “super powers” failed, regardless of this kind of hate/defeatist press against our nation, because unlike you, we live in this part of the world, and our survival depends on it.
Posted by KenyanCities | Report as abusive
NOV 13, 2011
3:55 PM EST
Not many Somalis are infavour of Al-Shabab to reresent Somalia and its people. But one policy that all Somalis agree with Al-Shabab and against the invations of foreign forces into the country. It is a historic fact that without the Ethiopian invasion into Somalia and of course with the blessings of the ‘mighty’ US, there would have been a good chance that Al-Shabab would not exist today. Besides, The Courts did not have military forcrs with ground artilary, airforce, tanks or even trucks for transportation. How they could haveever invaded Ethiopia is still a mystery. Without such lame excuse the Courts would have done well.
Now, the Kenyan forces invade the country with another excuse of saving its tourism by preventing the ‘Somali’ kidnappings of Al-Shabab, which has been very busy dusrupting the lives of the ordinary Somali people for the last few years. There had never been any kidnapping what so ever by Al-Shabab. I would ask for the reason or reasons that this kidnappings would start now.
The world have recently seen some ‘regime changes’ and ‘Arab spring’ in the Arab world and the world has also seen how fast all of them stabilised or nearly did. The question I ask is ‘why not Somalia?’. Is it because that Somalia is less favoured by the West than its neighbouring ones or the West want to keep Somalia as it is because once a govenment for the Somali people emerges, it would challange the West with the wrongs it has been inflicting over the county? Whatever the reason, it is time that the world opened their eyes and do something about the suffering of the Somali people. Actually, I cannot say that any one country of the world have ever suffered this long in my life time. As it is said, it is the good and silent majority of the world people that causes the majority of the pains and the suffurings of any one human being.
Posted by Maxamed | Report as abusive
NOV 14, 2011
1:40 PM EST
What Kenya has motivated to take such step is simply self-securing. But Kenya should know that any one on this earth never negotiate his/her security concerns. When ever you invade to a foreign country you need to give a justifiable with credible reason; Kenya didn’t give any reliable reason so far for its incursion into Somalia, nor had ever been proved that Alshabab had committed the alleged crimes. And for Netia please don’t spread porapoganda, Ogadeni clan doesn’t inhabit in the region you mentioned. Any Somali know where they live. They settle in Western Region of Somalia under the Ethiopian regime and likewise, very number of them inhabit the Somali region in Kenya that is North East region. So don’t spread false information here.
Posted by I.R | Report as abusive
NOV 16, 2011
8:08 PM EST
If Kenya goes to war, then go to war. USA has not conducted war since WW2 and forgot how. Cities smashed to pieces, everything blockaded and burned to the ground until the locals are so miserable there can be formal surrender terms. In war era, the loser surrendered or was enslaved. Now is peace deal era. In peace deal era, we have talibans and al-shababs.
Posted by THeRmoNukE | Report as abusive
NOV 16, 2011
8:08 PM EST
If Kenya goes to war, then go to war. USA has not conducted war since WW2 and forgot how. Cities smashed to pieces, everything blockaded and burned to the ground until the locals are so miserable there can be formal surrender terms. In war era, the loser surrendered or was enslaved. Now is peace deal era. In peace deal era, we have talibans and al-shababs.
Posted by THeRmoNukE | Report as abusive
NOV 18, 2011
10:56 AM EST
I congratulate the author for a well thought out article. The question: Will Kenya succeed where others failed has been asked in many variants in the recent past.
It is a valid question considering two things: the other battle hardened armies such as the US and Ethiopian Armies have been humbled in Somalia. Two, the Kenyan Defense Forces have never been involved in wars all these years.
So then the question can be asked again: will Kenya succeed where others failed? My Answer is a firm YES.
Why simply because those other battle hardened armies lacked in a battle winning strategy. While they were busy battling the rag-tag armies in Mogadishu, they left other parts of somalia, Particularly kismanyu and the porous kenya-Somali Border unpoliced. This meant that Al-Shabaab and any other militia could still receive arms, and export contraband to finance it war with the US and Ethiopia.
The two invaders in the past were also disadvantaged in another way, they could not communicate with the local population.
back to the first point.The kenyan defense forces have in the first place chocked Al-Shabaab’s lifeline. The Kismayu port, through which Al-shabaab could import contraband good and weapons has been effectively blockaded by the Kenya Navy.
Two, the Porous Kenya-Somali border through which Al-shabaab and its supporters in Nairobi smuggled the contraband into Eastleigh Estate in Nairobi has also been cut off by the Army which moving South wards towards Kismayu. Al shabaab’s sources of finance have been effectively shut down. This has reduced its effectiveness as a fighting force.
Thrid Kenya’s other plank is to effectively isolate Al-shabaab from the local population with who they can communicate freely in Kiswahili. Both the US and Ethiopia lacked this weapon.
The local populations can tell the difference between freedom and oppression.
Third, the Kenyans do not seek to administer the liberated areas. Instead they leave that to TFG-thus making local administration a Somali affair.
Finally the Kenya defense forces strategy appears to be to heard Al-shabaab together for the final assault.
Todate, al shabaab has been hearded Southward toward Afmadow and Kismayu.
So here is my thesis: Choked of funds and arms and also hiding places al-shabaab them something close to sitting ducks. My Prophecy, the final assault whenever it comes, will be just that a final one. There will be no-al-shabaab after that!
Wake me up when the war is over.
Posted by mwathani | Report as abusive
NOV 22, 2011
6:35 AM EST
Is there any such thing as an end game when it comes to Somalia? The best that the Kenyans can hope for is to create a buffer and secure their borders. As nice as it would be to believe that the Kenyans can round up al-Shabbab for some final, Clausewitzian assualt, the reality is that this would necessitate a full-scale assault into the plot of land that was once some nation known as Somalia. With no functioning Somali government to lend support, and leagues of land to cover, the end result of such an incursion would likely be something akin to a quagmire, only worse.
Posted by TarnellBrown | Report as abusive
NOV 22, 2011
9:06 AM EST
If elected to serve as Kenya’s 4th President and Commander-IN-Chief, I will endeavor, with Somalian, regional and international support, to secure our lands in Africa from extremist groups such as al Shabaab and their sponsors, al Qaida: There will be no withdrawal before the mission is complete! I echo the sentiments of President Mwai Kibaki of Kenya when he asserted that Kenyan troops will only return to barracks once Somalia is free and clear of islamist-extremism sponsored violence/ war.
Posted by Kenyatta | Report as abusive
NOV 23, 2011
7:16 PM EST
Why is our continent a failure, AU is a ‘show piece’ good for nothing.
War is crippling our economy, our Mps are busy voting in laws that allow them to get billions for their own personal homes. We forced the govt. to get rid of fuel guzzling cars they decided to replace them with expensive homes (silly us and them)
We are not food efficient, how did the mzungus feed themselves prior to 1963??
Posted by Smart123 | Report as abusive
NOV 24, 2011
9:19 PM EST
We african sufferd a lot when is the time for us to live togeher with out war ?pls,lets build africa instead of destroying africa,,,
Posted by Danye | Report as abusive
NOV 25, 2011
7:18 AM EST
I think TamelBrown wants us to believe that every Somali is al-Shabaab until proven innocent. If that is the case I wonder what the nearly 0.5 million refugees Somali refugees are dong in Kenya.
I eve doubt whether he understand the Geography of Somalia and even its politics. Al-Shabaab as a fighting force has been removed from the Somali Capital Mogadishu, by AMisom jointly with the TFG.
The South, where they now face the far superior Military the KDF is their only stronghold and that is why the militia is rushing its fighters there to defend atleast Kismayu.
Although the word being bandied around as the goal of KDF in Somalia is to “flush Out” Al-Shabaab from the neighbourhood of Kenyan borders.
I consider it a misnomer when flushed out where will they go? I expect something close to annihilation of al-shabaab.
Posted by mwathani | Report as abusive
NOV 26, 2011
1:23 PM EST
Peace must be maintained and if necessary, through strength. Mischief not contained within a certain unlawful governed area. It finds itself wondering about like the kidnapping of tourists in Kenyan territory.
President Mwai Kibaki should be lauded for the move to go into Somailia and rid it of these bandits with the help of Kenyan trained Somalia forces.
Lets remember the Somalia citizens who have suffered al these years under these terrorists gangs. All the blessings Kenyan forces!!!
Posted by Maish | Report as abusive
NOV 26, 2011
1:47 PM EST
Africa will never get anywhere until the people have democracy. when that occurs, then there will be hope.
Posted by laser1 | Report as abusive
NOV 30, 2011
9:17 AM EST
@THeRmoNukE: Yeah, the reason radical groups survive is that the average person in these incredibly impoverished countries don’t hate the west ENOUGH! We’ve got to totally destroy EVERYTHING they have, and then once they’re desperate and miserable and have nothing to lose, they’ll start behaving properly! Also make sure to leave them with the bill to rebuild their country from scratch once they have nothing but rubble…that sure worked against the Germans in WWI, yeah they just sat down and accepted their lot once they had ‘surrendered’ and it sure saved a lot of time and trouble and death in the long run. Or we can enslave them — that’s a super idea, too. More violence and destruction and chaos is clearly what Somalia needs to turn things around.
Posted by Marlower | Report as abusive
DEC 1, 2011
10:09 PM EST
It’s quite sad that some think they can “wipe out” or “annihilate” an ideology by sheer force. Somalia’s problem isn’t al-shabaab, that’s just a current manifestation of a 2 decade old problem. A problem fueled by external meddling and deliberate international ignorance with regional countries in collusion.
I guarantee you that Somalia would return to some sort of stability in no longer than a year or 2 if the US, the Ethiopians, Uganda, Burundi, the mercenaries (mostly funded by the UAE and now Kenya were to back off Completely along with their proxies. With a quick mop up of the pirates based in puntland from any of the countless international battleships off the coast or a handful of drones. Why? Cause shabaab or what have you can’t justify its own existence. Somalis themselves will throw it in the dustbin of history.
That’s not going to happen though cause that’s Not the intent.
Posted by Anonymous | Report as abusive
DEC 14, 2011
5:34 PM EST
Free for all
Somalia is practice ground for those who want to train their soldiers and at the same time make money.
The Americans have done it (although I believe they were sincere), the Ethiopians have done, then Burundi and Uganda and now Kenya.
The Burundian and Ugandan soldiers used to get 50 dollars per month as wages in their country, now they get more than 1000 dollars in Somalia thanks to Al-shabab. Now Kenya has seen this opportunity and asked to join the AU forces. I am a Somali in Britain, I have PhD in science and I do not earn 1000 dollars per month. What an opportunity? And the Somali people are dying in hundreds because of hunger and disease.
What do the AU forces and Al-shabaab have in common? Both want Somalia to remain the way it is.
adiós amigos
This article is from New York times
Unlike the Americans, who hastily left Somalia after 18 soldiers were killed during the infamous Black Hawk Down debacle in 1993, or the United Nations mission that folded not long afterward, the African Union has pressed on. It plans to send thousands more young men from deeply impoverished sub-Saharan nations into the maw of Somalia, an arrangement that is lucrative for the governments of the contributing countries and the soldiers themselves — they each can make $1,000 a month as a peacekeeper compared with as little as $50 back home.
Posted by ALI-G | Report as abusive
DEC 28, 2011
11:24 AM EST
So the USA bombs Somali, and the Somali bomb Kenyans. That’s why USA wants Somali to think Kenya is bombing them. Well played Kenya Cabinet!
“Somalia, where the militant group al-Shabab is based, is surrounded by American drone installations. And officials said that JSOC has repeatedly lobbied for authority to strike al-Shabab training camps that have attracted some Somali Americans.
But the administration has allowed only a handful of strikes, out of concern that a broader campaign could turn al-Shabab from a regional menace into an adversary determined to carry out attacks on U.S. soil.” ational-security/under-obama-an-emerging -global-apparatus-for-drone-killing/2011  /12/13/gIQANPdILP_story.html?hpid=z1
Posted by mbi | Report as abusive
JAN 19, 2012
10:27 AM EST
useless and insensitive comments ,AU esp Uganda and Burundi were not motivated to deploy their troops in war torn somalia because of money as somebody put it ,it was a pan AFRICAN spirist of the presidents of UG and Burundi , and the human heart to save our brothers and sisters including innocent children .UG and Bur are paying a high price that cant be compared with any material thing. the world shd wake up to the reality that somalia needs every bodys concern and assistance.
Posted by baingana | Report as abusive
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Based in Addis Ababa, Aaron Maasho reports on politics and economics from Ethiopia as well as covering the African Union.
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