By Chrispinus Omar and Njoroge Kaburo
NAIROBI, Nov. 21 (Xinhua) — The military advance on the towns of Kolbio, a major Al-Shabaab stronghold, and Busar, after fierce battles in southern Somalia in which two Kenyan soldiers were killed, might have been results of a humanitarian strategy.
“Those engagements and successive successes may not have come through if we did not have an answer to Al-Shabaab’s tactics,” said Colonel Cyrus Oguna involved in Operations (Kenya Defense Forces) in Somalia.
Kenya’s military strategy against Al-Shabaab emphasizes denying the militia force of its sources of revenue. The troops also blocked the escape routes for the fighters both at sea and over land through border patrols.
The military raid on a place called Sinai, in which five militiamen were killed, paving the way for the takeover of Kolbio, was of strategic importance to the Kenyan troops.
Apart from proving to the Kenyan troops that intelligence provided by the locals was actionable, the operation sealed off the strategic border confluence shared by Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia. This is crucial to the overall objective of the entire operation.
Analysts say the focus on the humanitarian aspects at the battlefront is a critical trade-off for the success of the operation.
“The means to win is to win the minds. The dynamics of war involves the people,” Oguna said.
A three-party presidential meeting held in Nairobi on Nov. 16 to discuss the progress of the battle against Al-Shabaab voiced the concern that “Kenya has been left to carry the huge refugee burden.”
Presidents Mwai Kibaki of Kenya, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda and Sheikh Sharif Ahmed of Somalia called for burden sharing and encouraged humanitarian aid agencies to relocate to the secure parts of southern Somalia to offer aid closer to famine-stricken communities.
“The strategies we are using is to create some form of authority to govern Somalia. We do not want to move on as an occupation force,” Oguna said, explaining why the troops have been slow to advance on fresh territories in southern Somalia.
While life is slowly returning to normalcy in the former Al- Shabaab territories, intensified intelligence gathering on the ground is continuing while troops battle to clear “pockets of Al Shabaab.”
“Information is coming hard and fast and we are able to assist. The cooperation between the KDF, the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) forces and the local people is assisting,” Oguna said.
Troops on the battlefront slowed down their pace of advance after a series of air raids and ground offensive which saw towns such as Dhobley, Tabda, Beles Qoqaani and Ras Kamboni fall into the control of the joint KDF-TFG forces offensive.
The operation has entered its 35th day, but the troops have been concentrating on humanitarian aspects of the operation.
They are offering treatment to hundreds of locals without access to drugs for malaria and offering food.
Kenyan military convoys in recent weeks have delivered nothing less than tonnes of rice, sugar, cooking fat and other household items to the locals and the locals have paid off in kind by offering crucial leads on the hideout of the Al-Shabaab operatives.
But along the humanitarian corridors, the fleeing members of Al- Shabaab have been looting relief supplies and setting trucks transporting food inland from the port city of Kismayu, further worsening the humanitarian crisis.
“The problem is you do not know who you are fighting. You have to move from house to house, gathering the information. We cannot advance at the moment..we are receiving crucial leads. They (Somalis) are leading us. It is proof that they welcome us. We are also providing them with (humanitarian) help,” Oguna disclosed.
The Kenya-Somali offensive includes the banning of all forms of fishing on the Indian Ocean.
The decision was reached based on intelligence that the Al- Shabaab operatives were taxing fishermen heavily, especially in the areas of Kuday, near Kenyan border.
“They were allowed to fish. But they would have to share the catch with somebody else. The reason behind stopping the fishing is to stop Al-Shabaab from going back. We cannot allow Al-Shabaab to creep back.”
“We have to help the locals feed. Our message is for those interested, now that peace is coming. We cannot provide peace and food. We need somebody else to feed the liberated areas,” Oguna said.
“The medical teams have been treating them. The local intelligence is helping to support our operation,” said Oguna.
Meanwhile, humanitarian organizations have been bashing of the Kenyan operation for worsening the humanitarian crisis in the region. The Kenyans insist the region was previously inaccessible before the operation.
Lindsay Kiptines, an official in charge of the Horn of African affairs at the Kenyan Foreign Ministry, said the government of Kenya would not bar entry to thousands of Somali nationals fleeing the humanitarian crisis in the former Al-Shabaab strongholds.
“The secured areas are safe. The humanitarian agencies should not peddle lies that the military operation is hindering access to these areas by humanitarian agencies. They must support us in this endeavor. It is the only opportunity we can work together to defeat the Al-Shabaab,” Kiptines said.
Kipteness said an extra ordinary IGAD (Intergovernmental Authority on Development) summit is scheduled for the end of this month to discuss the possibility of getting additional soldiers to the AMISOM (African Union Mission in Somalia) force.
The resolutions will be transferred to the African Union summit scheduled for January 2012 and later to the UN Security Council for discussion.
Kipteness also allayed fears that the operation in Somalia was bound to hamper humanitarian efforts and appealed to aid organizations to move into towns freed from Al-Shabaab.
Editor: Wang Guanqun