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Kenya's role in Somalia questioned in US Senate

Thursday, October 10, 2013

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A US government official and two think-tank analysts raised questions on Tuesday about Kenya's role in Somalia in comments to the US Senate.

"Increasing security efforts by the Kenya Defence Forces may have [aid] access implications in Kismayo and re-ignite tensions in the community," said Nancy Lindborg, assistant administrator of the US Agency for International Development.

Somalis express "great scepticism" in regard to Kenya's claim that it wants to remove its troops from Kismayo, added EJ Hogendoorn, an analyst with the International Crisis Group.

He pointed to a UN allegation that Kenyan military officers earn "large amounts of money from trade, including illegal charcoal, passing through Kismayo."

Most Somalis "believe Kenya wants to control southern Somalia because it has large oil and natural gas deposits," Mr Hogendoorn told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Abdi Aynte, director of the Mogadishu-based Heritage Institute for Policy Studies, said the US has "a moral obligation to exert pressure" on Kenya and Ethiopia to cease interfering in Somalia's internal politics.

"Their unchecked interference risks further destabilising of the country and a reversal of recent fragile gains," Mr Aynte warned. "Interference galvanises militant groups and further divides Somali communities."

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the State Department's top Africa official, and Amanda Dory, an African affairs officer at the Pentagon, also addressed the senators, offering a positive appraisal of US policy regarding Somalia.

The US-financed African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom) has managed to "eviscerate al-Shabaab," Ms Thomas-Greenfield said.

"Nonetheless, this Somalia-based al-Qa’ida affiliate remains a dangerous presence" in East Africa, she added, citing the Westgate attack.

"Al-Shabaab must be stopped," the assistant secretary of state for African affairs declared.

Under sharp questioning from Senator John McCain, Ms Dory declined to discuss the recent US raid on a Shabaab stronghold in Barawe, a town south of Mogadishu. She told the Republican former presidential candidate it would be inappropriate to discuss military operations in an open forum.

"The fact is, it was a failure," Senator McCain said in response, noting that US Navy SEALs had not captured the Kenyan Somali leader of Shabaab whom they had targeted in Barawe.

Andre Le Sage, a research fellow at the US National Defence University, added in his remarks to the panel that the United States should continue support for Kenya and other East African allies vulnerable to attacks by "Shabaab and its regional affiliates, including al-Hijra."


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