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Source: Terrorism Monitor

On January 15, the Somali militant group al-Shabaab carried out one of its most significant attacks on the forces of the African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM), when it attacked a remote Kenyan military forward operating base in El-Edde, located about 50 miles north of the Somali capital Mogadishu. Al-Shabaab later said that its fighters, from the group’s Saleh an-Nabhani battalion, had overrun the base and killed “over 100” Kenyan soldiers and captured others. The Kenyan military has not yet released any casualty figures for the attack, although 30 survivors and the bodies of some of the slain have since been repatriated (The Star [Kenya], January 19). One survivor of the attack said that al-Shabaab had used a suicide car-bomber against the base’s gates, after which the militants swarmed inside (The Star, January 19). Somali media sources reported afterwards that in the wake of the attack, the Kenyan military had carried out a number of airstrikes against suspected militants, inflicting civilian casualties in the process (Mareeg, January 20).

Although the extent of the attack is still unclear, it is seemingly one of the largest attacks against African Union (AU) or Kenyan forces in the country for at least a year. The attack underlines several themes. Firstly, it shows that although al-Shabaab has largely ceded the country’s cities to the Somali government and its international supporters, it remains able to deploy significant forces in some rural areas, notably in some areas around Mogadishu and in southern parts of the country, particularly in Jubaland. At the same time, al-Shabaab’s retreat to rural areas has allowed the group to choose its targets and to fight at a time and place of its choosing. Conversely, however, it is a sign of AMISOM’s success that its deployments into such remote parts of Somalia are forcing al-Shabaab to fight in these locations, while allowing the Somali government to strengthen its presence in the country’s cities.

At the same time, recent weeks have revealed fresh evidence that al-Shabaab is continuing to plan significant attacks inside Kenya itself. On January 20, Kenyan police shot and killed four suspected al-Shabaab supporters in the coastal resort of Malindi, as they were believed to be planning an attack (Geeskaafrika, January 20). The police recovered five grenades and one pistol from the individuals, who were shot after resisting arrest. Two weeks earlier, in another operation, Kenyan police had arrested one individual in Majengo, a slum in the capital Nairobi, and discovered an assault rifle and chemicals used in making explosives (Daily Nation [Kenya], January 1). These developments underline that a key part of al-Shabaab’s strategy, as well as keeping pressure on Kenyan forces in Somalia, is to also pressure the government through carrying out attacks on civilian targets at home.

Following the al-Shabaab attack in Somalia, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta said the assault would not deter Kenya from continuing to operate in Somalia, asserting that “our soldiers’ blood will not be shed in vain” (Horseed Media, January 15). While this may the case, if such attacks continue, they will increase pressure on the Kenyan government to show that its long and costly intervention in Somalia has produced ostensible and positive results. In the absence of this, further attacks – especially if carried out in conjunction with more attacks inside Kenya – may eventually lead Kenyans to conclude that their military’s intervention in Somalia has done more harm than good and should be discontinued.

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