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Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Conflict in Africa's Horn moving into Kenya?

By Daniel Ooko

NAIROBI: After pushing for African forces to be deployed in support of Somalia’s transitional government, Kenya is having second thoughts about a possible showdown in neighbouring Somalia.

  • A growing number of politicians and analysts fear a new war in Somalia could trigger hostilities against a badly-prepared Kenya, and turn it into a second battlefield of the Eritrea-Ethiopia conflict.
  • With Washington hostile towards the Mogadishu Islamists – some of whose members are reported to be close to Al Qaeda - the Horn of Africa may be set to become the next theatre in the US-led ‘war against terror’.
  • Speaking about the Somali conflict, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has noted that any potential partner of the US could not “allow terrorists in your midst”. However, she said, “anyone who is willing to fight terrorism” in Somalia could expect Washington’s support.

There are fears that the Al Qaeda cells in Somalia plan to retaliate for the killing of Al-Shabaab leader Sheikh Aden Hashi Ayro on May 1 in a US air strike, by staging attacks on American interests in Kenya, according to an anti-terrorism officer familiar with the details of the threat.

  • Al-Shabaab is classified by the US as a terrorist organisation.
  • The May 1 attack, which Washington has described as a major blow against an insurgency that has raged since 2007, was the fifth US air strike in Somalia since the beginning of 2007.
  • On March 3 this year, the US Navy fired two Tomahawk missiles from a submarine off the coast of Somalia at Dobley, in southern Somalia, killing several people, including at least three women and three children and wounding another 20.
  • Ayro, trained in terrorist and insurgency methods in Afghanistan and believed to have been in his 30s, was killed in a house in the small central Somalia town Dusamareb, 250 miles north of Mogadishu, together with another five insurgents, including his brother and another commander, Muhiyadin Mohamed. At least a dozen civilians in neighbuoring houses were also killed by the missiles.
  • The missile strikes were carried out in advance of a UN-sponsored meeting in Djibouti, at which TFG officials and Islamic leaders were negotiating a possible truce. Regional security analysts rank Somalia as a ‘secondary front’ in the war against terrorism. They say that the country’s profile was raised greatly following the Ethiopian invasion and the subsequent US air strikes.
  • Al-Shabaab’s spokesman, Sheikh Mukhtar Robow, has vowed the group will retaliate.
    “We will target all Americans irrespective of who they are, because the American government is killing all our people,” Robow told The Media Line.
  • Our leader Aden Hashi Ayro is a hero. Ayro’s killing by the Americans will not deter fighters of Al-Shabaab from stepping up their battle. The infidel and their cohorts will pay dearly for their deadly act...We shall avenge the death of our leader,” he said. Several months before Ayro’s killing, the group intensified its daily attacks on Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG), which is backed by Ethiopian army soldiers, taking control of substantial territories in central and southern Somalia.
  • Analysts said Al-Shabaab’s aim was to destabilise the Ethiopian forces by increasing the chaos in central and southern Somalia, thus drawing off forces from the capital. It is also aiming to increase insecurity to the point that the population will call on the Islamists to save it.
  • But with the killing of Ayro, it is possible Al-Shabaab may either stage quick and violent revenge attacks or make a tactical withdrawal to plan their next move.
  • A Kenyan anti-terrorism official told The Media Line the May 1 operation succeeded after some Al-Shabaab members fell out and passed information to the Americans.

Kenya and the US have been sharing anti-terrorism intelligence especially since the August 7, 1998 bombing of the US embassy in Nairobi and the Kikambala Hotel in November 2002. Their joint efforts have led to successful operations against Al Qaeda cells in Somalia.

  • According to Kenyan officials, the anti-terrorism unit is concerned the group may launch revenge attacks against Kenya following the killing of its leader. This has led to the beefing up of security along the Kenya-Somalia border, the officials say.
  • “We are very much prepared to avert these attacks. We have intelligence information that the terror groups are regrouping for possible attacks,” said an anti-terrorism police officer, who declined to be named.
  • Two Kenyans and two Britons were killed in Somalia in mid-April when insurgents carried out a raid on a school in central Somalia.

The move by the Kenyan defence forces to increase security comes only days after the US said, in a global counter-terrorism survey, that the country lacked the laws needed to wage an effective war on terrorism.

The Rest @ Gulf Times

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