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What are Kenya's long-term goals in Somalia?

Answer: Kenya is making inroads against Al Shabab. But Kenya's long-term aim is unclear.

By Alex ThurstonGuest blogger / October 24, 2011

Kenyan military board a truck headed to Somalia, near Liboi at the border with Somalia in Kenya on Oct. 18. Kenya said its launch of military operations into southern Somalia against Al Shabab militants was in response to the kidnappings of four Europeans over the last six weeks, though military analysts suspect that Kenya had prepared the invasion before the abductions.

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As I noted last week, many observers feel pessimistic about the long-term prospects of Kenya’s invasion of southern Somalia. In the short term, however, Kenya is making gains against Al Shabab, the Muslim rebel force that operates in the region.

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Fierce fighting is expected this week in the towns of Afmadow (see this map, and more reporting here) and Kismayo, (map). Kenyan planes bombed Kismayo this weekend. Taking these towns would deprive al Shabab of some of its key remaining strongholds, and could push the rebels into more remote areas.

Kenya is reportedly receiving Western military aid in its campaign:

Maj. Emmanuel Chirchir, said that the United States or France, or possibly both, had stepped up airstrikes in the past few days, killing a number of Shabab militants. The French Navy has also shelled rebel positions from the sea, Kenyan officials said.

The United States and France have not confirmed involvement in Somalia.

If Western military powers have indeed joined the conflict, analysts said, it could mark a turning point against the Shabab, a ruthless militant group that has pledged allegiance to Al Qaeda. It controls much of southern Somalia, though its young fighters and battered pick-up trucks are deemed no match for a sophisticated army.

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