Kenyan forces push into Somalia in “hot pursuit”

Keith Somerville

Kenyan army units backed by helicopters are operating inside Somalia, according to the country’s security secretary.  Kenyan officials justified the operation under the UN’s Article 51, which allows hot pursuit across borders in the wake of attacks against sovereign territory.

Kenya’s security forces hvae drawn up strategies to defeat al- Shabab in their own land, according to Francis Kimemia, the permanent Secretary at the Ministery of Internal Security.  He told the Nairob  Daily Nation ,“How it will be done, the number of troops involved and where they will strike remains a preserve of the military. We can’t give information that would be useful to the enemy,” he said.

Kenyan Amy units are believed to have crossed the border in to Somalia at Liboi and Mandera.  Their orders are reportedly to fight their way a substantial distance into Somalia, establish control in border areas and create a buffer zone to ensure that insurgents do not launch attacks against Kenya (see Martin Plaut on the buffer zone on Africa News and Analysis – http://africajournalismtheworld.com/?s=Plaut).

Troops are thought to have entered Somali territory a number of days ago, before the weekend announcement by the Internal Security Minister, George Saitoti,  and the Defence Minister, Yusuf Haji, that Kenya would enter Somalia following the abduction of aid workers from a refugee camp in northern Kenya and earlier attacks on tourists around Lamu.  Kenya has long wanted to get to grips with the threat to its borders and security from the civil war in Somalia.

Shabab and Somali government reaction

Somalia’s federal transitional government, despite support from African Union forces from  Uganda and Burundi, has proved too weak to beat the militia forces of the Islamist al-Shabab movement.

 Al-Shabab, has reportedly reacted to the incursion by forcibly recruiting young men in border areas into it militia, according to the Nation.  Officials from the movement have been broadcasting reports on local radio stations under its control calling on border residents to  “Get out of your homes and defend your dignity and religion. Today is the day to defend against the enemy.”  The broadcasts also asked whether they wanted to live under the control of Christians.

“Kenya violated the territorial rights of Somalia by entering our holy land, but I assure you that they will return disappointed, God willing,” Sheikh Hassan Turki, a senior al-Shabab leader, said, according to al-Jazeera.  “Mujahideen fighters will force them to test the pain of the bullets.”

The Somali transitional government says it welcomes Kenyan logistical support for its own forces but said, perhaps rather weakly, that it didn’t need Kenyan troops involved.  “Our forces are ready to combat al-Shabab and they are doing so effectively. They are ready at the borders, so sending troops is not needed,” Abdirahman Omar Osman, a Somali government spokesman, said.

Kenyan forces have often made minor and short-lived incursions across the border before, but Sunday’s offen sive is a bigger and more obviousy planned incursion.

Speaking on Saturday, well before the in cursion was announced bit probaly after it had started, the Internal Security Minister, George Saitoti warned that, “For the first time our country is threatened with the most serious level of terrorism.”.

Conflicting reactions from Somalia

Initial reports from news agency say that  the Kenyan forces have driven al-Shabab fighters from two bases near the border.  despite the Somali government’s statement that it didn’t need Kenyan troops, Somali military sources have said that the operation was carried out in a joint operation with Somali soldiers.  Somali sources said that combat attacked two al-Shabab bases in southern Somalia.  It is not known whose aircraft carried out the attacks.

In a contradcitory report, the first secretary of Somalia’s mission to the United Nations, Omar Jamal, told the BBC that a military incursion by Kenya would be “a very serious territorial intrusion by a foreign country”. he added that while, “We understand the Kenyan concerns very well… if any action is to be taken… the Somali government has to be on the same page, the Somali government has to be informed, the Somali government has to know exactly in many details what is going on, otherwise it will be a different story.”

Reports from inside Kenya talk of large movements of troops in the border regions, with army lorries packed with soldiers heading for the border. Eye-witnesses inside Somalia told journalists that about 25 armoured vehicles full of Kenyan soldiers passed through the Somali town of Dhobley.

Recent kidnappings

In the last six weeks two Spanish aid workers from Medecins Sans Frontieres
(MSF), named as Blanca Thiebaut and Montserrat Serra, were abducted from Dadaab. Two weeks before a Kenyan driver for Care was also abducted.  Prior to that a British woman and then a French woman were kidnapped from Kenyan beach resorts in separate raids. It is not clear whether the seizures of foreigners were carried out by al-Shabab or by Somali pirates.

Defending the military action in the wake of the seizures and growing frontier insecurity, Kenya’s Defence Minister, Yusuf Mohammed Haji, has said: “If you are attacked by an enemy, you are allowed to pursue that enemy until where you get him. We will force them far away from our border.”

What is not clear is how long Kenyan troops will stay in Somalia and whether the onternational com,munity would not accept a de facto buffer zone along the border.  It is also possible that Kenya has now made itself more of a target for attacks by al-Shabab.

See also: http://english.aljazeera.net/news/africa/2011/10/20111016115410991692.html

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-15331448

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