Kenya Laying Groundwork for Buffer Zone?
Although foreign nations are still playing mum...or dumb ( the US still insists they were taken by surprise by the Kenyan invasion), there clearly is a level of international coordination and pre-planning. This is the first time the Kenyan Army has decided to get out of bed on a Sunday and invade another country.
The minor technicality that the incursion is illegal and if parsed out could technically put the Kenyans at odds against the official "peacekeepers", the UN Arms Embargo and a host of other agreements created to prevent African neighbors from warring. The truth is that the invasion has been a long-time coming and may ultimately result in a buffer zone similar in size to Jubaland or Azania.
The Kenyan attack appears to show a high level of planning and coordination similar to the Ethiopian invasion of 2006, but it is not known which Western nation provided the funds and the support for this incursion. Kenya has been complaining of poverty for a while but has steadily been building up its military. But it's strategic position and constant pressure from Somali incursions have made it the most likely volunteer to be the next invader of Somalia.
Military Movements So Far
The 2011 Kenyan Punitive Expedition is more likely to be viewed as the next major contributor of foreign peacekeepers, although outside of the unwieldy African Union peacekeeping (AMISOM) structure. This rash, but morally correct, act if pulled off well, will most likely trigger payments from the US and other countries to maintain a force to contain al-Shabaab from the south. Coincidentally, AMISOM forces began as three battalions of around 850 troops and has grown over the years to just under 10,000.
The 1,600 or so Kenyan troops inside Somalia are now consolidating their positions and preparing to take Afmadow before pushing into Kismayo. Naval and air bombardment is also softening up the airport in Kismayo in possible preparation for a French supported landing. Once these two strategic points are taken, al-Shabaab will be sandwiched from Daynile in Mogadishu by AMISOM, from the north by the ASWJ and Ethiopia and Kenya from the southwest. On paper this is the correct way to marginalize Shabaab inside Somalia. There is no discussion on how Kenya or it's allies will deal with the expected revenge attacks inside Kenya.
Al-Shabaab still insists they had nothing to do with the kidnappings, but it's clear no one is listening or cares. There is serious concern that Nairobi coffee shops, military installations and expat hang outs are under threat and today's attack on a bus stop was proof. Al-Shabaab leaders have made direct threats against Nairobi and even declared war against the country.
The Kenyans have moved two brigades inside Somalia and have linked up with Ras Kambooni Brigade as well as coordinating with French and US military assets in the region. Al-Shabaab executed two men accused of being spies in Afmadow as pro-government forces approached.
On Sunday, October 15th, one unit of Kenyan troops in about two dozen trucks entered through Dhobley along Garissa Road to Qooqaani, north west of Kismayo. The so-called "Central Sector" had run into heavy rains impeding their progress.
A second group of Kenyan troops entered through El-Wak to take Busar. This unit is called the "North Sector" and has a number of towns held by al-Shabaab forces to deal with.
A third column supported by Kenya's navy crossed at the Kiunga border post to take Ras Kamboni with the help of the Ras Kamboni Brigade. There was no resistance met once inside the former stronghold of al-Qaeda. The first meetings of elders with the Kenyan army revealed a mood of relief and gratefulness. Their task is to secure the movement of ships or small boats along the coast as they move up towards Kismayo to link up.
The short term goal of the Kenyan troops is to take the port town of Kismayo about 155 miles in from the Kenyan border. In the short-term, they will be consolidating their gains by clearing smaller villages in the region and focusing on Afmadow, which is a trading area for goods that come through the port of Kismayo. Al-Shabaab troops faded away from Afmadow and are regrouping in Bula Haji. Afmahow is 620 kms from Mogadishu and has been under the control of al-Shabaab since November of 2009. While al-Shabaab troops are on the move they are also presenting targets of opportunity to aircraft and ships from France, Kenya and the US.
A French naval ship has bombarded Kudai, south of Kismayo, and air strikes either from US drones, Kenyan fighters or artillery have killed and injured people in Bur Gavo near Ras Kamboni. There are continued attacks on the airport in Kismayo in preparation for what may be a landing to secure the strategic port.
After the kidnap and death of 66 year-old Marie Dedieu, it is expected that France would support the incursion. The targeting of the elderly and ailing feminist and the partly deaf British woman, Judith Tebbutt, along with two Spanish aid workers seem almost designed to delivery maximum outrage and payback. So far al-Shabaab and al-Qaeda forces, if there are any, have not put up significant resistance, almost inviting the Kenyans to advance further. France has publicly admitted they will fly supplies into northern Kenya starting today but has denied any involvement inside the country.
The foreign military support to Kenya appears to be minimal but critical including over watch via satellites, AWACS, drones and naval air support. Kenya's MiGs and gunships have been doing some damage as well.
Despite recent public statements to the contrary, the US has had a long-standing relationship with support for the Kenyan military and dramatically increased military and intelligence support since the embassy bombings. The Kenyans have been busy training Somalis in an effort to create a buffer state called Azania which has a population of approximately one million people and will be most likely be led by former Somalia Defense Minister Professor Mohamed Abdi Gandhi.
The lack of diplomatic posturing means that western nations are clearly involved and have been briefed. The Horn of Africa is a critical part of US and French geopolitical strategy and all nations are concerned about the presence of terrorism and piracy in the region. Despite all this it is doubtful there will be high-level intervention. France's largest foreign military base is in Djibouti with an estimated 3,000 troops are kept here with air support. France has launched punitive and rescue missions before but on a much smaller scale. They currently have an intelligence operative being held by al-Shabaab in southern Somalia.
The US also has around 2,500 troops here and is the main African base for AFRICOM and the anti-terrorism Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa. Much of the US focus is on al-Qaeda and foreign elements of al-Shabaab. Although there are no Americans held hostage, the US is concerned that Somalia is still a safe haven for terrorists planning attacks on America.
The US, according to a December 2009 cable leaked by Wikileaks, did not support the further fragmentation of the region.
“The United States strongly opposes Kenya’s effort to establish a buffer zone in southern Somalia," US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Karl Wycoff said as he expressed America’s position to Foreign Minister Moses Wetang’ula at a meeting in Djibouti.
The Kenyan approach to the volatile buffer zone was to "cage in" the Hawiye clan, according to the leaked memo. The Hawiye are Somalia's largest clan. The Kenyan initiative also directly threatens Ethiopia's view of the region. Ethiopia's military presence has been bolstered by covert funding and the use of the pro-government ASWJ militia as a proxy force in the northern area of Jubaland. Over the three years since this memo was created, Kenya has continued to train Somalis, build relationships and extend their control into Somalia with limited success.
It appears that something must have been worked out. There is support: Sheikh Mohamed Hussein Al Qaadi, the spokesman of ASWJ's group in Gedo region has publicly welcomed Kenya's presence in Somalia and the TFG is fully cooperating with what might have been a challenge to their control of the region. Although some elements of the TFG have protested (including the president on Monday), others like Somalia's parliamentary security committee deputy chairman Hussein Arale Addan issued statements saying that Kenya has never invaded Somalia and is defending its country.
The French and the US have used their naval and air presence in the region to support the Kenyan action. French ships like the Nivose the Courbet and aerial support via an modified Airbus into an aerial surveillance platform have been part of the WFP protection program and anti piracy operations.
Africa In Sync, Sort Of
The effects of Kenya's first foreign military adventuring remain to be seen but there is a surprisingly coordinated effort from the six members of IGAD. IGAD has issued an official communique asking that the UN enforce a blockade of Kismayo and lift the arms embargo, something that indicates that the planners in Nairobi forget to check the rule books. A UN ban on weapons and military activity is in place for Somalia. Other than the official al-Shabaab denial of culpability in the kidnaps, there has been full support by the TFG, regional neighbors and international community for the invasion. To add further support to the creation of a buffer zone, meetings between local leaders are currently taking place in Nairobi. To make sure the TFG maintained its asynchronous reputation the President of Somalia Sheikh Sharif came out against the invasion but thanked the Kenyan's for the intervention.
Nairobi has been waiting for the inevitable attacks by al-Shabaab but there is no indication that a grenade attack on a night club was linked to the threats made by al-Shabaab leaders. Meanwhile in Mogadishu, AMISOM forces continue to pound on al-Shabaab in Daynile and there are there have been high level meetings between military elements of the Kenyan military, Ethiopia, TFG, AU and AMISOM. This is yet another clue that this operation had planning and preparation.
A recorded message from al-Shabaab's leader Mohamed Abdi Godane on Saturday said, "The Islamic regions in Somalia are all on high alert to prepare for the open war that is our response to the incursions by some neighbouring countries who are taking part in the global Christian invasion against Somalia."http://www.somaliareport.com/index.php/post/1834/Kenya_Laying_Groundwork_for_Buffer_Zone