October 23, 2011 6:02 pm
By Katrina Manson in Nairobi
The US is discussing how to assist Kenya militarily and financially in its fight against al-Qaeda-linked militants in Somalia, as Kenyan troops close in on southern rebel strongholds in its neighbour, a failed state prey to terrorism and piracy.
“We are talking with the Kenyans right now to figure out where they need help,” US ambassador Scott Gration told the Financial Times in an interview at his residence in Nairobi.
What started as an operation justified on the grounds of “hot pursuit” is rapidly expanding into a wide-reaching air and land offensive intended to wipe out Islamist al-Shabaab group, which is accused of running terror training camps.
The US embassy in Kenya noted “credible information of an imminent threat of terrorist attacks” at the weekend and warned citizens to avoid prominent Kenyan facilities, malls and night clubs.
Al-Shabaab has threatened to attack Kenya’s skyscrapers and tourism industry in retaliation for the incursion, and claimed responsibility for a series of attacks in the Somali capital this month, including one suicide bombing that killed more than 80 people.
“We are looking to see how, as an ally in this conflict on terrorism, can we help the Kenyans,” said Ambassador Gration, a former air force fighter pilot and presidential adviser, adding that the US is considering assisting with training and equipment.
He did not comment on reports of a series of US drone attacks across southern Somalia in the months since June, but confirmed the US has been assisting Kenya. “We’ve been involved in a very robust bilateral training programme, there’s equipment, radars and that kind of thing that we’ve supplied to the Kenyans to strengthen their border protection, and there’s more that we can do to help them protect those borders,” he said.
“If this doesn’t go right and if tourism is gutted, this is going to have ramifications on the region, on bilateral relationships and multilateral relationships that go very deep. I believe that we all should do what we can to help Kenya with this problem.”
Neighbours in the region, including military heavyweights Ethiopia, Sudan and Uganda, backed Kenya’s invasion during a weekend meeting, and Kenyan officials told the FT they hope France and other foreign navies involved in anti-piracy patrols will help set up a “third front” along Somalia’s coast, in addition to donor-backed forces in the capital Mogadishu to the north and Kenyan troops on land in the south.
“This is the best chance the international community has had to smash al-Shabaab, terrorism and pirates’ access once and for all,” a senior Kenyan government official told the FT. “If Kenya is to fail the way Ethiopia did [following a 2006 invasion], then the whole world is at risk. The British and Americans know that so many of their Somali citizens are sympathetic to al-Shabaab. They needed a fast mover.”