The Nation (Nairobi)

17 December 2011

Somalia: Military Action Was Planned for Years, Say U.S. Cables

Photo: Jared Nyataya/ Daily Nation
A Kenyan military patrol.

In January last year, a team of senior Kenya government officials met their US counterparts in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to lobby for international support for their solution to the Somalia problem.

The "Jubaland Initiative" as the secret plan it was dubbed, proposed the creation of a separate state in southern Somalia called Jubaland to cut off the Al-Shabaab from Kenya.

Citing increased threats to national security posed by Al-Shabaab, the Kenyan delegation led by Foreign Affairs minister Moses Wetang'ula said the initiative was necessary to secure Kenya's borders.

They made a passionate appeal for US "understanding and support."

Occurring on the margins of an African Union summit, the meeting also featured the then Chief of General Staff Gen Jeremiah Kianga, Defence minister Yusuf Haji and the director of National Security Intelligence Service Maj-Gen Michael Gichang'i.

The Addis forum was just one in a number of meetings held between high-ranking Kenyan and US officials in the campaign to enlist US support for the initiative.

Faced with US scepticism, the Kenyan delegation said the Jubaland Initiative was in fact the idea of the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia.

A lot of lobbying went on and, nearly two years later Kenyan Defence Forces rolled into southern Somalia for their first ever foreign military operation much to the enthusiasm of the local population and utter dismay of the international community.

Details about the lobbying are contained in diplomatic cables released by the anti-secrecy website Wikileaks early this year.

The cables reveal how Kenya engaged the US in a tussle of wills for more than two years in its determination to militarily neutralise Al-Shabaab's threat, resulting in the launch of Operation Linda Nchi on October 6 this year.

The cables also say the military action took years of planning and was not a spontaneous reaction to abductions conducted by the Islamist group on Kenyan soil as repeatedly stated by government officials.

The abductions seemed to provide Kenya with a convenient excuse to launch the plan which, officials argued, was necessary to ensure protection against threats posed by an unstable neighbour.

The cables indicate that the operation enjoyed unqualified support from both sides of the grand coalition government. President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga were firmly behind it.

Planning committee

One of the cables indicates that Mr Wetang'ula informed US Ambassador for African Affairs Johnnie Carson that the planning committee was working from Mr Odinga's office.

"The Kenyan effort was being coordinated by a team based in Prime Minister Odinga's office, Wetang'ula said, but the Prime Minister and President Kibaki co-chair the effort in order to make it truly bipartisan," reads part of the cable.

Kenyan officials enumerated the problems caused by Al-Shabaab insurgency: refugee influx into Kenya, radicalisation of the Kenyan youth, proliferation of small arms, and distortion of market prices as result of piracy money flowing into the Kenyan economy.

"Saitoti also noted that Somali piracy has hurt Kenya. He claimed proceeds from ransoms paid to Somali pirate syndicates are being used to purchase expensive commercial and residential properties in Kenya at inflated prices, thus affecting the Kenyan economy by distorting the real estate market.

"In addition, quantities of small arms and light weapons from Somalia are entering the black market in Kenya," reads part of one cable.

The strategy devised by security officials was rather easy: enter southern Somalia, drive away Al-Shabaab, create a buffer zone to allow the fledgling Transitional Federal Government to take control and increase its capacity to retain it.

Key to the success of this operation was reclaiming the port of Kismayu, which was the main source of funds for the insurgents, according to Director of Military Intelligence Brig Philip Kameru.

Brig Kameru's observations in regard to Al-Shabaab threat would prove quite prophetic.

In a cable dated August 2, 2010, he told the visiting US ambassador-at-Large for Counterterrorism Daniel Benjamin that Al-Shabaab was about to begin deadly incursions into Kenyan territory. (READ: US embassy warns on Kenya attack)

"He added that the DMI expects Al-Shabaab to begin cross-border incursions into Kenya and he claimed to have received reports indicating Al-Shabaab has plans to use improvised explosive devices and landmines against security personnel and civilian traffic inside Kenya.

"Kameru said there are other reports of Al-Shabaab stockpiling weapons in border regions," reads the cable.

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