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Kenya sends troops into Somalia in major policy shift

Kenya's military intervention into neighboring Somalia follows a string of kidnappings on Kenyan soil by Somali pirates and terrorist threats by Al Shabab, an Islamist militant group linked to Al Qaeda.

By Scott BaldaufStaff Writer / October 16, 2011

Internally displaced families board trucks as they travel back to their home regions from Ala-yasir camp closed by the al Shabaab militias, in Lower Shabelle, south of Somalia's capital Mogadishu, Saturday. Kenyan troops have crossed into Somalia and have driven out al Shabaab militants from two bases near the Kenyan border in a joint operation with Somali soldiers.

Feisal Omar/Reuters

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Nairobi, Kenya

Kenya has reportedly sent its troops into Somali territory, after announcing to reporters this weekend that it intends to pursue militant groups launching attacks onto Kenyan soil.

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The military intervention marks an immense shift in policy for Kenya, a country that has never sent its troops to fight in another country’s territory since independence in 1963.

The military action into Somali territory – confirmed by Kenyan spokesman Alfred Mutua on Sunday – follows the three separate kidnapping and murder attacks on Western tourists and Western aid workers over the past month, and repeated threats by the Somali-based Islamist militia Al Shabab to attack African countries like Kenya and Uganda, which support Shabab’s enemy, the fragile Somali government in the Somali capital of Mogadishu.

"For the first time our country is threatened with the most serious level of terrorism," said Minister of Internal Security George Saitoti at a press conference on Saturday.

“If you are attacked by an enemy, you have the right to pursue that enemy right where he is,” Kenyan Defense Minister Yusuf Haji told reporters.

Risky move for Kenya

Though Kenya has one of the largest militaries in East Africa, second only to Ethiopia, its Army has very little battlefield experience, and would face substantial challenges in Somalia, a country that has been in a near-continuous civil war since the fall of the Siad Barre government in 1991.

Among the risks are the possibility of terrorist attacks on Kenyan targets by Shabab sympathizers or operatives, a possibility underlined by Shabab spokesmen on Sunday. But Kenya appears to have decided that the risks of having a perpetually destabilized country on its northern border – and the incessant flow of Somali refugees into Kenya – are worth the effort of intervention.

Shocks to Kenya's reputation as a safe country

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