A day after the announcement that Kenyan forces had crossed into Somalia to drive al Shabab fighters away from the border and three days after the start of the Kenyan attack, hard news is scarce but it is clear that this was not a limited raid but a concerted attempt to seriously weaken the Somali Islamic group.
Large numbers of Kenyan troops have been committed. One leading blogger, Dennis Ole Tumbi, reports from his sources that 34 different “columns” of troops with armoured vehicles and some tanks are involved, though there is no clear picture of the size of the columns or overall numbers. Units involved include the 1st Kenya Rifles, backed by tanks, artillery and air support. Somali eye-witnesses have told news agencies and newspapers of seeing dozens of vehciles, including armoured ones.
Afmadow the next target
Reports from Nairobi suggest that the Kenyan units have moved well beyond the border and are targeting al Shabab units in Afmadow, 100 kilometres from the border. There are also growing indications of cooperation between Somali transitional government forces and the Kenyans and that they have been joined by Islamic fighters from the Ras Kamboni Brigade, a group which once supported al Shabab but is more moderate and now is li ing up with the government.
The Nairobi Nation newspaper says Somali residents of Tabto and Qoqani towns in Lower Juba region confirmed that Somali government forces in alliance with Ras Kamboni fighters have supported the Kenyan offensive.
al Shabab mobilises and issues threats
On the other side of the frontline, al Shabab has mobilised hundreds of its combatants and has been seizing vehicles in areas it controls to speed units towards Afmadow and southern Somalia. Eye-witnesses in the southern Somali port of Kismayu told the French news agency AFP that he saw “50 trucks and pick-up trucks mounted with machine guns, with hundreds of fighters heading towards the Kenyan border”. The group has also been taking vehicles around Mogadishu to send more fighters south.
On Monday al Shabab spokesman Ali Mohamud Rage told the BBC Somali service that his fighters would attack Nairobi. Mr Rage said: “We will defend ourselves. Kenya doesn’t know war. We know war. The tall buildings in Nairobi will be destroyed.”
Journalists in Nairobi are reporting that elite Kenyan security units were already being deployed to guard major buildings in central Nairobi.
Military operations will continue unti desired effect achieved
On Monday the Internal Security Minister and George Saitoti and Defence Minister Mohammed Yusuf Haji both said that the military operation would continue until the “desired effects” were achieved, though without clearly detailing those effects. The ministers blamed al Shabab for kdnappings, piracy and the killings of both kenyan citizens and foreigners in raids across the border or attacks in the Indian Ocean.
They said the military offensive, named Operation Linda Nchi (Operation Protect Kenya would be sustained until the Islamic militia was subdued – though it is not clear whether this means just in a buffer zone along the border or whether kenya is committed to supprting the transitional government and it allies in destroying the militia’s military forces completely.
Whatever the final aim, the Kenyan government says it is acting under international law to prevent corss-border terrorism.
Conflicting signals from Somali government
As the fighting continues there are still conflicting signals from the Somali transitional government. There is evidence of cooperation betwee its forces and the Kenyans and the Kenyan government says it acted partly after requests from the Somali government.
But the Somali government spokesman Abdurahman Omar Osman on Monday repeated the official line that that Kenya only helps Somali forces through training and logistical support for its forces. he claimed that, “people may be confusing Somali troops trained in Kenya that are crossing to the other side with Kenyan soldiers”.
No official figures have been released for casualties on either side not details of clashes between the opposing forces. But it is known that five Kenyan soldiers died at Liboi airstrip near Garissa when a Chinese-made helicopter crashed soon after take off. Kenyan military sources say that it wasn’t shot down but crashed and caught fire.