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Kenyans ask if military attack in Somalia has exit strategy

Kenya's military incursion into Somalia, provoked by string of kidnappings by Al Qaeda-affiliated group Al Shabab, have some Kenyans asking whether the risks are worthwhile.

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Kenya’s tourism industry received a shock yesterday, with the announcement that a French woman kidnapped in October by Somali gunmen had died this week.

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The cause of Marie Dedieu’s death is unknown, but it is possible that she died because she was deprived of her regular medication, sent to her through intermediaries by the French government. The condition of two kidnapped Spanish aid workers with Doctors Without Borders and of a British tourist taken from Lamu is also unknown.

Doctors Without Borders, which continues to run hospitals in what is officially the world’s largest refugee camp complex, in Dadaab, Kenya issued statements urging the release of its two Spanish logisticians, who were kidnapped last week, and made pains to distance themselves from the Kenyan military’s operations.

The British aid group Oxfam noted that the operation couldn’t have come at a worse time, when 1.5 million Somalis have been already forced from their homes because of drought and conflict, and when 750,000 Somalis are at risk of death because of “deteriorating conditions.”

“We are extremely concerned that the current fighting is likely to have a serious impact on communities left struggling to survive by the famine,” Oxfam’s regional director, Fran Equiza, said in an e-mailed statement. “The top priority at the moment must be making sure that people get aid quickly. But increased conflict will make it even more difficult to provide them with food, water, and other life-saving assistance.”

Technically, Kenya isn't at war

Yet in Nairobi itself, aside from the front pages of newspapers, there is little outward sign that the country is at war. In fact, technically, Kenya isn’t at war, because the commander in chief, President Mwai Kibaki hasn’t officially declared a state of war. Indeed, Kenya’s top leaders have largely gone silent on the Somali incursion, relying on military spokesmen to provide daily updates.

But while life in Nairobi largely goes on – or in the case of traffic, returns to its normal grinding halt – security around Nairobi, particularly at five star hotels and the international airport, has been raised visibly, and police have begun heavy sweeps of ethnic Somali neighborhoods such as the thriving Somali business hub of Eastleigh.

Internal Security assistant minister Orwa Ojodeh defended tougher actions in Somali neighborhoods in a Parliament meeting yesterday, saying that the stepped up police presence in Eastleigh, including the removal of street vendors along the perimeter wall that surrounds an Air Force base in Eastleigh, were in the interests of national security.

“This [Al Shabab] is like a big animal, with the tail in Somalia and the head of the animal is hidden here in Eastleigh,” Mr. Ojodeh was quoted by the Nation newspaper as saying.

Al Shabab’s military spokesman, Sheikh Abdi Aziz Abu Musab, meanwhile, announced on Somalia’s pro-Shabab radio station, Al Furqaan, that “We will face the Kenyan invaders and will overrun them with God’s will, as we did with the American and Ethiopian invaders.”

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