The Kenyan army has captured Somalia’s Indian Ocean port of Kismayo, driving Al Qaeda’s Somali franchise Al Shabaab out of its last strategic stronghold, the key to controlling southern Somalia. The small Kenyan army, navy and air force fought to victory Saturday, Sept. 29, after a year-long ground, sea and air offensive.
Fearing the Shabaab was feigning defeat and lurking in the town’s alleys to strike back, Kenyan warships backed by the French Navy shelled suspected terrorist hideouts in Kismayo Sunday.
Kismayo was Nairobi’s prime goal when exactly a year ago, the Kenyan army launched its drive into Somalia following the failure of UN-backed intervention for ridding Somalia of the Islamist terrorists long plaguing the country.
With a population of 200,000, Kismayo, which lies 328 miles southwest of Mogadishu near the mouth of the Jubba River, is the commercial capital of the autonomous Jubalanand region of Somalia which abuts on Kenya.
Very few Western military experts rated the Kenyan army of only 60,000 soldiers capable of routing the hard-bitten 25,000 Shabaab militants and capturing a sizeable region of Somalia – a feat which famously defeated US elite forces in 1993 in Mogadishu and forced the Ethiopian army to retreat with heavy losses in 2006.
But, although Washington and Paris denied any role in the East African conflict, US did contribute to the Kenyan effort with drones gathering intelligence for the Kenyan army and guiding the aim of its artillery, while French battle and supply ships operating out of Kenya’s Indian Ocean port of Mombasa dropped supplies, ammo and fresh Kenyan reinforcements on the Somali coast.
Even more tight-lipped were Jerusalem and Nairobi about Israel’s substantial contribution to the Kenyan war effort to push al Qaeda’s affiliate far from its borders.
According to debkafile’s exclusive counterterrorism sources, Israeli military assistance to Kenya came in three forms:
1. Israeli military officers advised in the planning of Kenyan field operations. They recommended systematic special ops raids behind Shabaab lines to generate disarray in enemy ranks instead of rapid advances to seize large tracts of territory.
2. Israel supplied Nairobi with the weapons appropriate for these tactics, including drones and field intelligence equipment.
3. Israeli intelligence, police and special ops specialists in counter-terrorism counseled Kenyan internal security authorities on security in the big towns.
From Day 1 of Kenya’s operation in Somalia, the Al Qaeda Somali militia threatened to stage mega attacks on Nairobi and Mombasa, the Kenyan army’s chief port for delivering war supplies. This threat was staved off with the help of Israeli counter terror experts who assisted the authorities in the two towns. The jihadists were reduced to comparatively small-scale attacks with minimal casualties, such as lobbing grenades and shooting up road traffic.
In the latest such attack, one Kenyan child was killed and three seriously hurt by a grenade lobbed into the St Polycarp church’s Sunday school in Nairobi Sunday, Sept. 30.
Israeli-Kenyan friendship goes back a long way, but this was the first time Israel’s military, intelligence, counterterrorism and police officers were to fill a direct role in any concerted offensive against al Qaeda outside its borders.
Kenya’s military feat has put the al Qaeda franchise on the run, forcing its terrorists to choose between putting distance between themselves and southern Somalia or being picked off by Kenyan forces hunting them down.
East Africa can start looking forward to a better future. Nairobi has pledged substantial investment in the development of Kismayo and its port facilities, while also forging ahead with plans to build a big modern port at its own Indian Ocean town of Lamu.
With the removal of the al Qaeda menace from its borders, Kenya sees the rise of three important East African sea outlets at Mombasa, Lamu and Kismayo. All three will also provide the US, France and Israel with strategic military, naval and air bases, in position to block Iran’s scramble for expansion into the Indian Ocean and along the shores of East Africa.