By Mark Paredes, For the Deseret News
Middle East Matters
If fortune befriends the bold, Kenya is one of the world’s luckiest countries.
Fed up with sporadic attacks and kidnappings of foreigners on its soil by radical al-Shabaab militants from Somalia, Kenya launched an invasion of Somalia last month in a laudable attempt to establish a buffer zone in the south that would allow it to prevent infiltration by terrorists and facilitate the distribution of humanitarian aid to refugees in the region. It has already seized a few southern towns and is calling on humanitarian organizations to return to southern Somalia.
Unfortunately, the Kenyans attacked just as the fall rain season began, and their 2,000 troops have made slow progress. To speed things up, the Kenyan government has asked the U.S. to provide intelligence and logistical support to help it rout al-Shabaab. Given that the U.S. currently gives Kenya about $700 million in aid, and that al-Shabaab is allied with al-Qaida, this is a no-brainer. The invasion is Kenya’s first foreign campaign since its independence, so it can be forgiven a few planning errors.
For good measure, Kenya has just signed a cooperation agreement that will allow Israeli experts to train its counterterrorism forces. While this won’t win it any PR points with Muslim Somalis, it will certainly increase the effectiveness of the overall mission.
In Somalia, the Kenyans will try to hook up with the 9,000-strong African Union Mission in Somalia, which has been in the country for nearly five years and is currently tasked with protecting and supporting the unstable Somali government in Mogadishu, the capital. Al-Shabaab has recently stepped up attacks on the African Union (AU) troops, who undoubtedly welcome the Kenyan offensive. Somalia hasn’t had a national government worth the name since 1991, and the AU is doing its best to stabilize the country’s capital.
Unfortunately, the opportunity to whack al-Shabaab proved to be irresistible to Ethiopia, which has just invaded Somalia from the west. Ethiopia, Kenya, Eritrea and Uganda have long vied for influence in Somalia, and Ethiopian troops occupied parts of the country for three years in an ultimately unsuccessful — and widely resented — attempt to defeat Eritrean-backed militants and establish a friendly government.
If Ethiopia is successful in clobbering al-Shabaab, it will be interesting to see what role it will attempt to play in the establishment of a stable Somali government. What is certain is that Eritrea, Ethiopia’s archrival, will continue to arm and support al-Shabaab.
Will Somalia have a functioning government after two decades? All we can do is hope — and help the good guys. Terrorists in Somalia have defeated U.S. and Ethiopian forces in the recent past, and the indigenous al-Shabaab movement is aided by sympathizers and operatives from abroad, including Somali communities in the United States.
That said, it’s always good to see Africans attempting to solve an African problem. With American and Israeli counterterrorism assistance, the AU, Ethiopian, and Kenyan combined forces may have a shot at ridding the region of a dangerous terrorist group.
Their victory would deny havens to both al-Qaida and the infamous pirates, who have been preying on ships off the African coast. It would also contribute to the stability of nearby Yemen, another strife-torn country with an al-Qaida presence.
A lot is at stake, and the countries involved seem to be in this for the long haul. Let us wish them well in their attempt to bring civil governance to a failed state.
Mark Paredes served as a U.S. diplomat in Israel and Mexico and blogs for the Jewish Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.