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Kenya: With No Clear Exit Strategy, Kenya May Be Stuck in Somalia for a Long Time
By John Ngirachu
Sunday October 18, 2015
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When the Kenya Defence Forces crossed over the border into Somalia in October 2011, their mission, as stated by then Internal Security minister Prof George Saitoti, was hot pursuit of the enemy.
In the weekly updates that followed the launch of Operation Linda Nchi, then Chief of Defence Forces General Julius Karangi and other senior officers painted a clearer picture of this mission.
It was, he said, to create a zone between the Kenyan border and inside Somalia through which Al-Shabaab could not penetrate.
That buffer zone would be a peace-filled area that would also take away the necessity of hosting hundreds of thousands of the refugees who are perpetually crossing the border.
Part of the creation of that zone would involve taking control of the town of Kismayu, whose natural deep port was the busy epicenter of trade in southern Somalia and the source of revenue for Al- Shabaab.
Months after the launch of Operation Linda Nchi, the KDF went under the wing of the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom).
This entailed not only the symbolic "rehatting"- wearing Amisom rather than KDF hats, but working together with the other armies from Uganda and Burundi and with a joint command.
For the personnel on the ground, it meant an increase in pay as they would have a monthly allowance of $1,000 paid out of the United Nations.
TAKING OF KISMAYU
But their challenges would remain: slogging in the jungle in all seasons and fighting an enemy that prefers surprise, ambush, trip bombs and all manner of asymmetrical warfare to standing and fighting in the trenches.
Writing in the book that is their official account of the operation, KDF said that this also entailed working together for the capture of the town of Kismayu, the most strategic urbanised area south of Mogadishu.
But, according to KDF, the other countries' armies gradually abandoned that objective and left it to them, the KDF, to plan the taking of Kismayu.
As far as understanding the objectives and challenges of Operation Linda Nchi go, the account by the KDF, which is available at Text Book Centre, offers plenty of insight.
One sees how the various key battles that were fought, and won, with a number of casualties suffered, contributed to the strategic advance towards the eventual virtually bloodless takeover of the port town.
But the KDF now appears stuck in the Somalia mess just like the United States is in Afghanistan and Iraq.
And as the time passes, there have been claims by the United Nations of senior military officials' involvement in the charcoal trade in Somalia whose proceeds help fund Al Shabaab, claims KDF has denied.
NO CLEAR EXIT STRATEGY
KDF has also been accused of killing civilians in operations, especially raids by the Airforce.
But spokesman Col David Obonyo denies all the claims.
"Our air attacks are based on credible and accurate intelligence. We only target fighters and not civilians," he says.
Kenya has been under constant attacks by Al-Shabaab. From
grenades being thrown into backstreet pubs to Westgate mall and Garissa University College, the attacks have not stopped.
Although the insistence from the security forces has been that more attacks were foiled, it is not easy to convince a team that loses by three goals that they have a great goalkeeper who stopped 20 shots.
It became obvious over time that the buffer zone does not work.
This is despite the creation of Juba land and the election of Ahmed Mohammed Islam alias Madoobe as president of the region.
KDF's official account of the Operation Linda Nchi had the taking of Kismayu as the highlight. There is no clear exit strategy.
But with the joining of Amisom, what is becoming increasingly clear is the fact that Kenya will be in Somalia for a long long time.
: By John Ngirachu
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