Just who knew that Kenya would launch its attack on Somalia?
Somalia's president has condemned Kenya's surprise 10-day-long attack onto Somali soil. Uganda has praised it, and the US and French governments claim no involvement.
Kenya’s military operation into Somalia is now well into its second week, with tough battles ahead in the Islamist-held town of Afmadow and the port city of Kismayo, and few signs that this incursion will have an early exit.Skip to next paragraph
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But the Kenyan attack, which appears to have caught Kenya’s Western allies and even the Somali government by surprise, has gathered support from other regional powers in East Africa, who argue that the time has come to finish off the Al Qaeda-affiliated Somali group, Al Shabab, once and for all.
In the past week, leaders including the African Union’s Jean Ping and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) regional group have endorsed Kenya’s operation, in stark contrast to the Western-backed Somali president, Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, who condemned the presence of Kenyan troops on Somali soil. But while it is still unknown how long the operation had been planned, and who had been informed in advance, it has become clear that Kenya’s military advance into Somalia is a long-term commitment, with uncertain – but powerful – consequences.
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“We have been aware of what Kenya is doing,” said the spokesman for Uganda People’s Defense Forces, Felix Kulayigye, quoted by the Nairobi newspaper, the East African. Uganda, which provides some 6,000 troops for the 8,000-strong African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia (AMISOM) has been pushing its fellow African Union members for some time to contribute troops, arguing that Uganda and Burundi should not bear the burden alone.
Taking on Al Shabab, Mr. Kulayigye added, “is a regional issue, an African issue.”
If Kenya is beginning to coordinate its military actions with those of its regional partners – including Uganda and perhaps Ethiopia, which invaded Somalia briefly in 2006 – then it is doing so without explaining its larger goals to the Kenyan people themselves.
With two Kenyan battalions, serving under a mission called Operation Linda Nchi (Protect the Nation) and slowly descending on Kismayo, Kenyan authorities have largely gone quiet on the public information front.