The War Comes Home

The War Comes Home

pusuealshabaabWith the Kenyan military vehemently dening it, many local residents report that Kenyan military aircraft dropped bombs in mainland forests near Lamu last Sunday. There were similar reports about a month ago.

In late June militants attacked two coastal villages on the mainland opposite Lamu, massacred almost 100 people, stole stores of corn and other food and disappeared into the thick jungly forests a few miles further inland.

The Kenyan military responded and it was presumed this one-off event had been resolved. But it appears now that the militants are entrenched, and that the war in Somalia has moved onto Kenyan soil.

When the military first responded on Kenyan soil about a month ago, the general in charge announced an operation to ferret out the remaining al-Shabaab terrorists who are presumed responsible for a number of Lamu area attacks in the last year.

I guess it didn’t work.

This strikes yet another blow to Kenya’s struggling tourist industry, and it’s a shame, because the issues are grossly misunderstood and the situation poorly reported.

The relationship between Kenya and the U.S. has suffered recently because of America’s strong travel advice to its citizens against visitnig Kenya, and because of the White House’s cold shoulder attitude towards Kenya’s president, Uhuru Kenyatta, who is on trial for crimes against humanity in The Hague.

Last week, though, at the African/U.S. Summit there were signs that the relationship is improving. The entire situation is steeped in irony, because it is precisely the Obama administration which recruited, armed and trained the Kenyan army to go into Somalia in the first place.

Although American foreign policy has often snaked around to bite itself, the irony doesn’t just end there. The Kenyan military operations have made America much safer, Kenya probably less safe.

Lamu is an island city in far north Kenya, only 60 miles from Somalia. While most of the Kenya/Somalia border is desert and wasteland with few people, Lamu is a thriving coastal city with more than 100,000 people.

It has a deep history that goes back to the 13th century, was a favorite retreat of early colonials, and is just a few miles from the mainland coast of extraordinary, pristine beaches. It’s set to become Africa’s largest deep water port within the next ten years, as it’s the perfect terminus for oil and gas pipelines coming out of the new oil fields now being developed in the deserts to the west and north.

Over the years some of Kenya’s most exclusive beach resorts and boutique hideaways have been built in this area, several of which have recently gone out of business.

Because of Lamu’s proximity to Somalia, it’s suffered a number of attacks including headliner tourist kidnapings and murders by Somali terrorists.

The thick mainland forests just off the shore are undeveloped and very jungly, providing excellent refuge for fugitives and terrorists. This is where a number of local resident said the Kenyan military was shelling and/or dropping bombs last Sunday.

The Kenyan mission in Somali is doing well. Kenyan military – armed and trained by Americans – essentially ousted al-Shabaab earlier this year. The great port city of Kismayo is now a functioning, non-terrorist city.

The trouble is that we’ve turned the clock back 20 years to before al-Shabaab, but right after Black Hawk Down, when Somalia imploded leaving only scores of warlords running the place yet fighting one another united rarely to fight outsiders.

Al-Shabaab, like the Taliban in Afghanistan, had managed a semblance of stability throughout Somali by whipping the warlords into shape, extorting them or in many cases, integrating them into the larger jihadist structure.

Now absent al-Shabaab, they are reemerging as feisty and independent as ever, and armed to the teeth.

Al-Shabaab as such is a spent force. It’s very likely that the trouble in and around Lamu is al-Shabaab, because this is the likely place they would have run to from the Kenyan military occupation in places like Kismayo.

I don’t think it’s going to last. Although it flies in the face of similar situations around the world from Afghanistan to Cambodia, I think the Kenyan military is likely to get a hold on this situation pretty quickly.

There just aren’t that many al-Shabaab left. Jihadists are racing to the Mideast, Iraq and Syria. They’ve essentially lost Somalia and Kenya.

But if not?

Then it’s a terrible escalation of a cancerous conflict. I’ll keep my eyes on this closely.