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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

KDF should leave Somalia only at the end of the AMISOM process, or at the Demand of the Somalian people.

A few weeks ago, it was reported that the Ethiopia National Defence Forces (ENDF) would be replacing the Sierra Leonean AMISOM troops (RSLAF) that were operating alongside Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) soldiers in Sector 2 region of Somalia.
(The RSLAF had demanded working alongside KDF as a condition of their joining AMISOM….and they, to the credit of KDF, moved all the way to Kismayu via road, after landing in Wajir)
The withdrawal of the RSLAF was brought about by a standoff between the governments of S. Leone and Somalia, after the later rejected the former’s scheduled rotation due to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.
The fact that it was the ENDF, and not the KDF that replaced the Battalion of S. Leonean Soldiers is a matter of concern for keen followers of the developments in Somalia, since in the first place, the S. Leone troops had relieved a battalion of KDF in Sector 2 and it should have been automatic that a battalion of KDF in turn replaces the departing RSLAF.
Secondly, the ENDF are already located in the vast region of Sector 3 (and Sub Sector 3), therefore stretching them further southwards doesn’t make a lot of sense.
This led me to make three assumptions:

     1.    KDF has begun a silent withdrawal from Somalia.
     2.    KDF may in turn replace ENDF in the parts of Sub Sector 3 region that border Kenya.
     3.    Ethiopia is winning the geo-political struggles (with Kenya) by roping in its last Somalian region    where it has the least political influence.

The 3rd assumption is not of importance to me since eventually, Somalians will run their country in the best way they know how.
The 2nd assumption makes a lot of sense in terms of change of tactics, with the recent incursions by the Al Shabaab terrorists into Madera region. It makes absolutely no sense for the ENDF to operate on a region bordering Kenya.

The 1st assumption, would be very unfortunate, if it were the case.
There has been rising political demands for the withdrawal of KDF from Somalia, in response to the rising terror attacks over the past two years.
The main opposition coalition in Parliament, CORD, has asked for an ‘exit plan’ from Somalia.
When Kenya intervened in Somalia, my position was that the success or failure of the operation was pegged on how popular or not, the Al Shabaab group was, amongst the Somalian masses.
Many were sceptical, given KDF’s lack of experience, the previous failure of ENDF, the fact that Ugandans Forces (UPDF) and their Burundian counterparts had for a long time been forced to operate in very limited parts of Mogadishu, the fact that Southern Somalia was a stronghold of Al Shabaab group,,,,,,,and of course, the glorious defeat of the U.S forces 20 years before.
(Information from Wikileaks showed that the U.S was also opposed to Kenya’s intervention, yet it had supported the 2006 Ethiopian invasion!)
The propaganda (and lies) battle was fought on twitter, with both sides claiming victories and denying defeat.
As the operation progressed, KDF proved their capability, by capturing one town after the other, working alongside the Somali National Army (SNA) & some local militias, building health facilities and schools etc, and ensuring that each region was secured before leaving for the next.
Unfortunately, for the past one and a half years, the KDF has stopped giving Kenyans any official updates of concrete significance. Their official twitter handle @KDFinfo is semi-dormant, Major E Chirchir no longer gives us fresh updates like he used to, and we no longer hear from the person who replaced Colonel Oguna as the Army Spokesperson. We now depend on independent journalists & analysts, and the slow updates from Amisom.
(Also gone are the days when the original Al Shabaab group twitter handle would give us reliable information from the other side.)
The following are some of the reasons that have been given, as to why KDF should withdraw from Somalia, and I disagree with them:

·         Since the Al Shabaab group is attacking Kenya in revenge to KDF’s activities in Somalia, then KDF should withdraw, and Al Shabaab will, as they have promised, leave Kenya alone.
Of course, believing in such rubbish from a terrorist organisation that prides itself in butchering workers and peasants is foolish. In any case, what constitutes to a revenge attack by Al Shabaab is now widening in scope, and now includes the (backward and unnecessary) barricading of a mosque by Kenyan Police, the (inhuman) rounding up of Somalis in Nairobi….who knows what it might next include?

·         Whatever is happening in Somalia is an internal issue. And we should leave Somalia alone.
The Al Shabaab situation is not a Somalian internal problem. They had launched attacks inside Kenya even before Kenya went into Somalia. It is therefore right for Kenya to work with Somalia to get rid of the terrorists. Also, some of the Al Shabaab top commanders and fighters are non-Somalians.
Kenya should only leave Somalia, at the demand of the Somalian Government and its people.
Some of the people who are asking for withdrawal on this basis, are the same people who criticise the African Union (AU) for doing nothing with relation to resolving conflicts and wars on the continent. AMISOM is indeed an AU success story in the making. It would be completely irresponsible for Kenya to sink its head in the sand, when all the Somalia neighbours are actively looking for a solution in Somalia under the auspices of the AU.

·         KDF achieved its goal by capturing Kismayu, and so they should come back home.
This is a Video-Game argument. Those who are advancing it do not understand the irregular nature of Al Shabaab as a fighting group. This intervention is not about capturing cities and planting flags. It is about building structures that will prevent a vacuum at the point of withdrawal.

·         The Al Shabaab is an unconventional fighting force, and a regular army like KDF cannot defeat them.
Surprisingly, this comment is very popular with some “learned” commentators doing opinion pieces in major newspapers! If this statement was true, then there would be no need for regular armies! Warfare would have developed to something else!
Every organised criminal gang is an unconventional fighting force, and they are usually (always) defeated by the regular government Police Force or Army.
This is also why, after victory, the first task of any popular Guerilla Army is to convert itself into a Regular peoples army.
The question of who, during an irregular warfare, will emerge victorious, is primarily dependent on who has the support of the masses. If the Al Shabaab do not have the popular support, then they will be defeated and vice versa.

·         We need those soldiers in Somalia to return to Kenya and protect Kenya from within.
This argument can only hold water if we had in the first place deployed all our Soldiers within. But the reality is, most of them are still doing whatever it is that they do, in their barracks. The imagination that we can deploy all our soldiers to the Kenya-Somalia border, where they will create this long wall that will prevent anyone from coming in remains just that, an imagination.
We do not need to deploy KDF internally to deal with Al Shabaab. In fact, if that is done, it may end up being a grave mistake. The Police are better trained, and even more experienced in dealing with criminal groups that operate like Al Shabaab. All they need is proper leadership at the higher echelons of both the Police and the intelligence Services.

The Al Shabaab attacks inside Kenya are successful not because of how efficient the terrorists are, but because of how inefficiently the current government handles our internal Security. For instance, the first Madera massacre was due to lack of seriousness on the side of our security agencies (They had information beforehand, this was not the first attack on that highway etc). The second Mandera massacre, just days later, was a mixture of stupidity and lack of seriousness (First, it was a textbook second-hit-attack, secondly, the government claimed that it had warned the victims to move out, but they refused?!….)

The truth is that AMISOM in general, and KDF in particular, have done extremely well in Somalia in as far as getting rid of the Al Shabaab terrorists is concerned. In fact, if i were a KDF soldier being forced to withdraw prematurely from Somalia, my first task on returning home would be to plot a coup d’etat against the government that forced me back. This is because the reality on the ground is that AMISOM has cleaned up huge regions of that country, AMISOM is winning, and withdrawing at this point will pose much greater risk to Kenya, since leaving without establishing working structures in Somalia will lead to a backlash that no one will be able to handle. The Al Shabaab will hit back with a morale of victory, and a spirit of revenge. No vacuum should be left once AMISOM leaves.(This was the mistake that the Ethiopians did in 2006)
AMISOM's efforts (in terms of security) will be tested in Somalia’s constitutional referendum voting and outcome next year, and their national elections thereafter.
AMISOM’s strategy of training thousands of Somalian soldiers and police is on point, and it clearly forms a critical part of the ‘exit plan.’
Currently, former Al Shabaab fighters are surrendering in their hundreds, including some of their top most commanders.
What we should probably ask is; what is the feeling of the Somalian masses towards the involvement of KDF in Somalia?

Internally, the Kenyan government should stop playing politics with Security. The fact that the President could not sack Cabinet Secretary Ole Lenku until he found a Maasai replacement for him, or the fact that he left the Inspector General’s position vacant until he found a Kalenjin replacement, tells a lot on his priorities. The ethnic arithmetic for 2017 is more important that the Security of Kenyans today.
The Security agencies must work closely with the masses, and ensure that the masses are on their side, when it comes to matters of security. They must change their mode of operation, for example, they should stop the unnecessary Barricading of Mosques, stop the collective punishment of Kenyan Somalis, improve on their investigative skills so as to ensure successful prosecutions, take information from the people seriously ,etc
The government must also come up with solutions to the unemployment crisis in the country. Even though being unemployed is not an excuse for crime, unemployment is a cause of crime.

Externally, the KDF must exhibit professionalism, and investigations on the sale of charcoal in Kismayu should be done, and everyone found responsible should be arrested and charged. The KDF continues to deny involvement in the business, without bothering to interpret for us the movements seen at the Kismayu Port from the satellite images.
The KDF must also update us on what is going on in Somalia, what progress have they made since the capture of Kismayu, what are the challenges that they are facing, and what their future plans are.

Benedict WACHIRA
31st December 2014

7:42pm