Kenya Defense Forces Earn Praise for Success in SomaliaFebruary 2 | Posted by Carmelita Ann Pryce | Intelligence News, Military Intelligence
A top US Intelligence director has praised the Kenya defense forces for their success in Somalia. Director of national intelligence James Clapper gave a thumbs to KDF. On the same week, William Hague visited Somalia, while UN set up an office in Mogadishu. Suddenly KDF’s incursion has opened a floodgate of opportunities for Somalia. This is success where US and Ethiopia fell on their full bellies. The Kenya Defense Forces have traditionally been insulated from political interference and avoided participation in politics.
Jendayi Frazer, a former U.S. undersecretary for African affairs, in her doctoral thesis wondered why the Kenyan military never staged a successful coup d’état despite being one of the most organized institutions in the country. Whatever success they are enjoying is largely a result of excellent planning years well in advance. This is evidenced by U.S ambassador Michael Ranneberger’s remarks in leaked diplomatic cables about Kenya’s desire to create a buffer zone well inside Southern Somalia known as the Jubaland initiative.
Kenya has been in a unique position to gather intelligence about Somali operatives, and especially the Transition Federal Government because the TFG was conceived in Nairobi then “Exported” to Mogadishu. The NSIS and Military Intelligence Corps would therefore have a core understanding of how the still nascent Somali politicians would react to an incursion by the KDF.
Despite the passing of a motion by the U.S senate recommending the suspension of military aid to Kenya over alleged atrocities committed during the 2008 Mount Elgon operation in November 2011, KDF is most definitely receiving intelligence support from the CIA in the way of satellite and other forms of surveillance. The Obama Administration, though not openly showing support, is definitely pleased about the Somali operation’s success since there have been a number of cases involving young men being recruited from American soil to join the Shabaab.
Somalia has gained prominence among Al Qaeda affiliated groups as a safe location to facilitate training and other jihadist activities because of pressure in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Ambassador Ranneberger highlights this fact in a leaked diplomatic cable in August 2009. The recent rescue of an American woman and a Danish man by U.S Navy SEALs demonstrates the fact that the operation may have had the benefit of psychological confidence of having a “serious” ally on the ground by the name of KDF.
On the European perspective, a number of the foreigners arrested on Kenyan soil attempting to enter Somalia or providing support for Shabaab activities have been confirmed to hold British passports; the recent case of Natalie Webb comes to mind. Other notable European nationals have come from Germany and the Scandinavian countries. The success of the KDF will serve to minimize the threat of already trained and indoctrinated jihadists leaving Somalia for their homelands to go “sleep” and prepare Al Qaeda style attacks (as was the case with Osama bin Laden’s Afghan Terrorist University).
Israel has been rumored to be providing technical assistance to the KDF during the operation against the Shabaab. This could be true given the traditional close ties between Kenya and Jerusalem on security matters. Nairobi is Mossad’s regional hub and as such a stake in KDF’s success in Somalia could help to further enhance Israel’s leverage in the region. It is also worthy to note that piracy on the high seas along the Somali coastline has declined considerably since the onset of the operation by the KDF.
The incursion therefore complements powers such as the U.S, Germany and Britain that have warships patrolling the coastline, but have lacked a “boots on the ground” strategy. The Kenyan Navy is currently blockading the port of Kismayu, the primary hub of the Shabaab. China, touted as having a renewed interest in Africa seems to have its role restricted to arms sales and infrastructure development. A good number of recent of recent purchases of aircraft and other vehicles by the KDF are Chinese made.
Their current strategic interests in the region maybe centered on South Sudan and the proposed oil pipeline to Lamu along the Kenyan coastline. China is keen to have a share of steady uninterrupted flow from these reserves to feed its energy needs. High seas piracy activities related to the Shabaab are therefore a potential future threat. Regionally, the surprising efficiency displayed by the KDF in Somalia has given food for thought to Uganda and Ethiopia in particular.
Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni has been quoted as describing the Kenyan Military as a “career army” with no combat experience; conveniently forgetting that an upcoming section of his officer corps is Kenyan trained. The Ugandan (and the smaller Burundi) deployment in Somalia though limited to Mogadishu, have taken more than two years to help the TFG establish a foothold over the capital.
The rapid successes of the KDF in routing the Shabaab in its southern strongholds are a direct rebuff at Museveni’s attempts at display of regional military superiority. The benefits of peace may have accrued to the KDF. Though not battle hardened, they’ve had the benefit of being able to build up their capacity and develop qualitatively through education and training.
Rehatting to AMISOM may have been an attempt by Kenya to give an international appeal to the operation since the major world powers have given a more or less cautious, but positive response to the incursion. This move is of no consequence from an operational point of view since the KDF has or is close to achieving the core objectives of the operation, which was to create a buffer zone well inside Somalia and the scuttling of Shabaab activities.
Al shabaab was overrated probably because of its ability to attract and recruit foreign followers especially from Europe and the United States. Locally in Somalia, it would seem the local elements are largely made up of ordinary thugs. That leaves the foreign fighters to do most of the planning and strategic thinking. The KDF’s slow but steady advance is therefore an international relations coup for the Kenyan Government for the time being.