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Kenya has finally made it to Kismayo. Feeling confident enough to enter the long suffering port city of 150,000 people with the invasion force, Spokesman Col Cyrus Oguna credited an air, land and sea operation called "Operation Sledgehammer" for the success of the invasion.
Oguna said this was the first time any such attack has been carried out by an African Army. What the media spokesman lacks in history knowledge he makes for in enthusiasm. South Africa, North Africa and even Mogadishu have been the scene of numerous amphibious and air assaults executed or accompanied by African troops. His excitement may be more due to the lack (so far) of any major disaster. It's not easy moving untested troops by small boat into a hostile region at night.
Somehow the Kenyans managed to coordinate air strikes by aging Northrop jets with no smart bombs, even less precise rocket strikes from helicopters and artillery strikes from aging ships. All the while offloading terrified Kenya land forces from bobbing ships onto beaches north of the city at night.
Kenyan troops now control the north boundary of the town, which includes the old airport, road junction and University grounds.
The military may not actually control Kismayo, but strategy was solid, execution well done and U.S. and ally-provided intelligence and coordination is credited with some of the success. Not to mention constant training by both US forces in Kenya and onsite foreign advisors contracted through the AU (but paid for by the UN and the US)
Anvil and Sledgehammer
The 10 pm to 2am assault required 7 ships of the Kenyan navy including the recently delivered Jasiri. An anti piracy patrol ship that finally showed up in August.
Although flummoxed at first, local Somali militias like the Ras Kamboni were hired to restart the Kenyan campaign. slowly the Kenya war machine began to make headway. Somali Army Units were also brought in to support the Kenyans. Using painfully slow clearing operations and proxy forces the Kenyas slowly cleared al Shabaabtraining camps and secured villages around Kismayo creating the anvil for which they had to yet reveal the hammer.
The arrival of the newly built 83 meter, 140 ton, 28 knot Jasiri gave the Kenyans the confidence to launch a sea going operation. The Jasiri was purchased in 2003, was built, sat without upkeep for seven years, impounded and then finally sold at a discount to the Kenyans. The other "new" ship pressed into service was the ancient P400 KNS Harambee II formerly known as "La Rieusse" from Reunion. The patrol boat was donated by France because of its 40mm cannon. This augmented the rather sparse Kenyan naval assets. Kenya is not known for naval expertise having declared a blockade and promptly blasted a group of Ras Kamboni fishermen who were returning from being out fishing at night. This time the Kenyans were blasting the right targets although children and civilians have been killed by the inaccurate naval and air shelling.
But war is an inexact matter and by all accounts the invasion was successful. There are still pockets of resistance inside the city that will be left to the militas to clear. Kismayans will awake tomorrow morning under the rule of a foreign army, giving some pause to the orignal purpose of AMISOM and the Djibouti accords which were designed to keep self interested neighbors from meddling in Somali affairs.
Running Out of Space?
It could be that Kenya has checkmated al Shabaab from their normal route of exit. Around midnight Sheik Ali Mohamud Rage, spokesman for al Shabaab, admitted that the remaining fighters had been ordered to execute a "tactical retreat". Although Al Shabaab admitted they had made yet another strategic withdrawal they have been pulling out of the south since early this year. Fighters have also retreated to the islands around Kismayo. In anticipation of the final assault, Somalia Report interviewed a number of al Shabaab commanders including those in charge of suicide attacks. Back in June of this year the terrorist group gave every indication of holding the line at Kismayo. But almost exactly our years after they entered, al Shabaab has abandoned Kismayo.
It is not clear where exactly, al Shabaab is going withdraw to. Typically the foreign and experienced islamist fighters have left by skiff or dhow and moved up the coast while sending their families across land to the Ogadan region to meet them along the coastal areas in Somaliland and Puntland. From there its a short boat ride to Yemen. Many fighters have moved into the Golis mountains where they have easy access to weapons and supplies across the Gulf of Aden. Al Shabaab has historically entered areas where there are minor conflicts and then escalated those disputes into control positions. They began when the ICU was driven out of power by Ethiopia and quickly harnessed Somali anger at foreign occupiers. After fighting an inept army and ineffective leaders, al Shabaab was literally at the gates of Villa Somalia by the end of 2010.
A renewed effort using more Ugandan soldiers, in concert with Ethiopia and foreign mentors pushed the islamists back. The entry of Kenya posed more of a problem than an opportunity. Uganda had at least fought bush wars and had no long term ambitions for Somalia. Kenya clearly wanted to expand its area of control into southern Somalia, and wanted to use an untested army to do it.
Although Kenya considers Al Shabaab surrounded, Al Shabaab may consider having 17,000 foreign troops locked down in fixed positions a victory. Maintaining an operational army requires a lot more money than networks of cels who blow themselves up or attack strategic targets. A fan site run by a British Somalia called HSM Press has been tweeting comments that range from the boastful Sept 28th tweet: The Kuffar invaders are about to learn that we are an Ummah that has never been defeated, and the coming days will bear testimony to that." to waking up the next morning with a much meeker approach to the invasion. "Last night, after more than 5 years the Islamic administration in #Kismayo closed its offices. to the less than confident " Last night, after more than 5 years the Islamic administration in #Kismayo closed its offices."
A good anti insurgency campaign requires a vigilant, supportive population and a benign occupier. Somali's are adept at quickly reshaping social structures and ousting malcontents. It remains to be seen how benign the KDF, new Somali government and their proxies will be to the lucrative port city.
As the second and more difficult phase begins. Kenyans and AMISOM must support a new government and maintain fixed positions ideal for attack by terrorist tactics. For now there will be calm as Kenyan troops and Somali militias begin mopping up.
It must be remembered that al Shabaab successfully pulled its entire force out of Bakara market right under the noses of AMISOM. They did it in one August night leaving behind a small group to guard their retreat. Al Shabaab has not been seen grouping in large formations but has carried out a number of devastating attacks on politicians, journalists and security forces.
Residents said fighters were seen leaving early this morning heading out of town. Somalia Report has been notified that al Shabaab leaders have been spotted in Jilib, Bu'ale and Diinsor making preparations to defend their 2006 and 2009-era strongholds. They also complained that al Shabaab had urged them to head towards the port and found themselves in the path of the oncoming Kenyans. Al Shabaab knows how to retreat and more importantly let armies and administrations settle in before attacking again.
The Second Act Is the Hardest
As the Kenyans are welcomed to Kismayo they know that al Shabaab sympathizers have stayed behind waiting to strike. Thankfully local residents have long since tired of al Shabaab. They might exactly find a devastated desperate place.
The port has been humming because prices have been kept strategically lower than Mogadishu's port. the Somali government may shift those prices causing a drop in dock jobs as more goods head back up to the main port. The administration has not been selected but historically Kismayo has been a contentious price due to the lucrative taxation the port generates.
Al Shabaab survived off charcoal exports and the taxes on those 7 million sacks of charcoal shipped to the UAE and Saudia Arabia are supposed to have kept al Shabaab flush. The UN estimates that al Shabaab or at least the al Shabaab governor made an estimated $25M in taxes in 2011.
The reality is that al Shabaab has always survived by taxation, extortion or simple theft. They have always been their own worst enemy, declaring Somalia for Somalis but bringing in foreign fighters and an less than Somali interpretation of islamic sharia. Somali's have been adept at harnessing the more mediative xeer when needed as well as sharia and western legal systems. As a port, Kismayo will need a forward thinking administration that shares the economic benefits of an open port.
The local population has been under the control of al Shabaab since August of 2008. The people have suffered under al Shabaab, not prospered. Western aid has been restricted, NGO's have feared to work here, there will be a surge of money jobs and goodwill. Until the bombing and attacks start.
Many Somali's hope this is Kenya's last act and they have gone out with a bang. A Hollywood-style beach landing with no casualties that will stir the home country and allow them to hand over control of Kismayo to locals. Over the last year of fighting, Kenya insists it has killed over 700 insurgents and only sustained less than three dozen casualties. That low casualty figure actually says more about Kenya's real tactics of letting the proxy miitias fight while they provide the armored backup. It is doubtful the mostly Christian army of Kenya will have much to do once Kismayo is locked down. It is equally doubtful that Kenya will simply turn their aircraft and armored vehicles and head back across the 682km long Somali/Kenyan border.
A Long Way To KIsmayo
What should have been a short drive from the border to Kismayo on October 16, 2011 appears to have become a yearlong slog for the Kenyans. It is not the goal of getting control of Kismayo goes back to the Ajuuraan State in the middle ages. The region was once controlled by the Sultan of Oman, Britain, Italy, warlords, Ethiopia, the ICU, al Shabaab and now AMISOM acting on behalf of the new Somali government. The Kenyan push to control the region using Ogadanis began in 2010, but the Ethiopians are not blind to the strategic importance of an avenue to the ocean controlled by elements hostile to their fight against Somali Ogadani insurgent elements.
It is not clear where the Kenyans go from here. The Kenyans, like the Ugandans, make money having their troops stationed inside Somalia. The Somali government seems to sleep better at night in Villa Somalia being guarded by western-trained guards and Ugandan soldiers.
There is also the embarrassing matter of contested off shore oil blocks off the Somali/Kenyan border There is economic benefit in controlling the port and the border Speculation would be premature but a quick review of the unexpected invasion shows that something other than national security has driven this expedition.
"Operation Linda Nchi" began on a trumped up premise. The need to pursue kidnappers who had snatched tourists and aid workers from Kenya's northern borders. "Shiftas" of Somali bandits were neither new nor that critical to Kenya's security.
The kidnap and murder of an elderly French woman, the murder and abduction of British tourist and the kidnapping of two Spanish aid workers from the Dadaab refugee camp.
The timing for the invasion was terrible. The rainy season quickly impeded any rapid movement. Coordination, training, funding and political will began to wane. The TFG was caught unprepared and vociferously rejected yet another foreign invader. A day or so of behind the scenes schooling and everybody seemed thrilled that yet another neighbor was blundering around the bushland chasing al Shabaab. But despite a rosy face painted on the punitive expedition, Linda Nchi seemed to be a disaster.
Worse according to the Kenyan government the operation was costing them $2.8M in personnel costs against a $3.1 billion dollar national deficit.
Finally choosing pragmatism over optimism the U.S. began supporting the invasion and AMISOM welcomed Kenya as fellow journeymen mercenaries earning their $1028 dollars a month while drowning in ammunition and weapons. The $5 million a month for the 5000 Kenyan troops was also bolstered with funds and training. The blundering blitzkrieg was "rehatted" , funded and absorbed into AMISOM. Kenya is seeking $164 million dollars from the UN to reimburse the cost of the invasion.
Jubaland or Somalia?
An agressor had become a peacekeeper even though their stated mission was to seize control of Kismayo. Kenya's real goal was to control the southern part of Somalia with a Kenyan friendly administration. Over the next few weeks the real battle will shape up as citizens of Kismayo see their government being shaped for them. As Somalia Report reported on last year, a hodgepodge of potential contenders await.
President Hassan was on message in the local and congratulated Somali forces first, then "local forces" followed by "AMISOM" forces.But he also made it clear that he wants locals to form a government and is quite wary of the negotiations ongoing in Nairobi to form a government. If history is indication (ex- President Sharif had no idea Kenya was invading and lashed out at them) Kenya along with the UN will have their say and not the new President. The Jubaland initiative has an ugly history of being force fed to Somali. They were neither invited or consulted Back in January of 2010 the Kenyans had lobbied the U.S. on the invasion to install a proxy government. This is the quiet battle that should be paid attention to rather then the booming and small arms fire of Kenyans clearing al Shabaab from Kismayo.
At press time two Spanish aid workers last known to be held in Kismayo are still being held captive.