The Kenyan military is reported to be advancing toward Kismayo, accompanied by aerial bombardment of the city. With or without international assistance to the Kenyan military, al-Shabaab seems at last to have bitten off more than it can chew with its recent cross-border kidnappings.
“Kenya Says Western Nations Join Fight in Somalia, as U.S. Denies Role,” by Josh Kron and Jeffrey Gettleman for the New York Times, October 23:
NAIROBI, Kenya “” Foreign military forces have joined the offensive against the Shabab militant group in Somalia as Kenyan troops advanced toward the rebel stronghold of Kismayu from two different directions, Kenya said Sunday.
A Kenyan military spokesman, Maj. Emmanuel Chirchir, said that “one of the partners,” possibly the United States or France, had been behind airstrikes in the past few days, killing a number of Shabab militants. The French Navy has also shelled rebel positions from the sea, the Kenyan military said in a statement.
There is also a psychological element to this announcement, of course. Al-Shabaab may have surmised by now that it is in much more trouble than usual. A report like this leaves the group to wonder how much.
Two senior American officials in Washington said Sunday that neither the United States military nor the Central Intelligence Agency had carried out airstrikes in Somalia in recent days. One of the officials, who follows American military operations closely, said the Kenyan offensive had forced many Shabab fighters and commanders to disperse, making them easier potential targets, but emphasized that there had been “no U.S. military strikes in Somalia at all recently.”
American officials in Kenya declined to comment. A French diplomat in the United States did not return phone calls.
If Western military powers have indeed joined the conflict, analysts said, it could represent a turning point against the Shabab, a ruthless militant group that has pledged allegiance to Al Qaeda. The group controls much of southern Somalia, though its young fighters and battered pickup trucks are deemed no match for a sophisticated army.
“Everybody is in theater,” Major Chirchir said in a telephone interview on Sunday. “We know about the strikes. They are complementary.”
The American military has previously conducted surgical strikes in Somalia, taking the opportunity to kill terrorism suspects and Shabab fighters who were on the run. In 2006 and 2007, the American military cooperated closely with a large Ethiopian force that stormed into Somalia to oust an Islamist movement that had taken control of much of the country.
About a week ago, Kenya sent hundreds of its soldiers into Somalia to battle the Shabab, whom the Kenyans blame for recent kidnappings in Kenya; many independent analysts, however, doubt the group had a role in the abductions. Kenya’s military says it plans to remain in Somalia until the Shabab’s capacity is “reduced” and Somalia’s weak, American-backed transitional government is able to function.
But Kenya’s military “” especially compared with those of its neighbors, like Ethiopia, Uganda, Sudan and Somalia “” has scant experience. Several military efforts over the past 20 years by other external powers, from the United States to the United Nations, have failed to deliver a sustainable government in Somalia.
Kenyan military officials say their plan is to squeeze the port of Kismayu, one of Somalia’s biggest towns and a major money-earner for the Shabab, from two sides in a pincer movement with troops massing to the west near Afmadow and to the south in Raas Kaambooni. Heavy rains, though, have literally bogged them down, and after an initial burst of activity, the Kenyan advance seems to have slowed.
Major Chirchir said the Kenyan Navy had also positioned ships along the coastline from the Kenyan border toward Kismayu.
“Any vessel that is there with a militia we will take it down,” he warned.
On Sunday, Kenyan officials said that a French naval ship had shelled the city of Koday, south of Kismayu, and that casualty figures were not yet available. The French military has also launched small, covert strikes in Somalia in the past, aimed at terrorism suspects and pirates.[…]
On Saturday, the American Embassy sent a text message to Americans in Kenya saying, ” the U.S. Embassy in Kenya has received credible information of an imminent threat of terrorist attacks directed at prominent Kenyan facilities and areas where foreigners are known to congregate, such as malls and nightclubs. Please exercise caution.” […]
Early Monday, a grenade attack wounded 14 people in a bar in central Nairobi, the Kenyan police said, according to Reuters. No one was killed in the blast and no one claimed responsibility.