Wednesday, October 19, 2011

"Somali rebels reinforce Afmadow, residents flee"

I'm quoted in a Reuters story on Kenya and Somalia.

[Update: The Reuters interview is referenced in a Catholic News Agency story.]

Here's the full transcript of the responses I provided:
Kenya’s action is an expression of frustration as a result of bad developments coming from Somalia whether from al-Shabaab or some other group. I don’t believe Kenya’s action is a publicity stunt or an effort drive al-Shabaab out of southern Somalia. Kenya does not have the capacity to drive al-Shabaab out and keep them out. The best it can do is remove al-Shabaab from the border area and possibly Kismayu and then try to replace al-Shabaab with Somali forces friendly to Kenya such as the Transitional Federal Government, Ras Kamboni faction and/or others.

The Kenyans must understand that a long-term presence inside Somalia will become a rallying cry for al-Shabaab and result in more anti-Kenyan sentiment among many Somalis. It is questionable if pro-Kenyan Somalis would be able to hold this territory after the departure of the Kenyan forces.

In this sense, the Kenyans are creating a dilemma for themselves. On the other hand, they are fed up with the antics of al-Shabaab and some of these criminal Somali groups and felt that it had to take action. Kenya may have intelligence that al-Shabaab captured the French and British tourists and the two Spanish MSF volunteers.

I am not convinced al-Shabaab carried out these attacks. But the fact is that all four of these people returned to territory under the control of al-Shabaab, which makes al-Shabaab complicit whether it conducted the operations or not.

The Ethiopians are certainly in regular communication with the Kenyans on all matters concerning Somalia. While Ethiopia may take some actions in concert with the Kenyans along its border with Somalia, I doubt there will be any coordinated Kenyan/Ethiopian military action in this most recent Kenyan operation.

Kenya may well find itself more embroiled in Somalia than is advisable. At the same time, it could not permit these incidents emanating from Somalia to continue without a response. It had to do something. Whether this was the best response is debatable.

The impact of this action on providing assistance to famine victims in south and central Somalia is important. If this operation permits friendly Somalis to occupy the border area, it might make more famine relief available to some of those who have not yet been reached. If this is a quick in and out military action with no lasting change in the situation on the ground, it might complicate famine relief as aid agencies will be more reluctant than ever to try to operate in al-Shabaab held territory.

Kenya’s action also opens the door to al-Shabaab terrorist attacks inside Kenya. Al-Shabaab has avoided these attacks so far because it benefits too much from the illegal shipment of goods from Kismayu into Kenya and from financial supporters in the Somali community in Kenya. Al-Shabaab may conclude that the Kenyan action must be responded to, however, and the easiest way to do this is to carry out terrorist attacks inside Kenya. This would really ratchet up tension in the Horn.

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