5 smart reasons why Kenya should not withdraw KDF from Somalia

It is now almost two months since alShabaab militants attacked and overran an African Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) base manned by the Kenya Defense Forces (KDF) at El Adde, Gedo Region of Somalia. In its wake, it left heavy fatalities. So far, the government has not issued an official number of fatalities, casualties, survivors or those taken as prisoners of war (POW). Initially, alShabaab put the number of soldiers killed at 63 with Somalia President recently quoted by a section of press putting the number of fatalities at 200. All in all, this was one of the heaviest military disasters since Operation Linda Nchi was launched in October 2011.

Now that tensions and emotions have receded, it might be appropriate to revisit the merits and demerits of the continued KDF presence in Somalia as part of AMISOM. The Commander in Chief has made it clear that Kenya will be in Somalia for the long haul until the initial aim of the deployment; stabilization of Somalia, is achieved. The government’s position may have been informed by a number of factors and precedence’s including the following;

1). No single government in the world has surrendered to a terrorist organization or group. Many terrorist groups worldwide that have been defeated militarily achieved their objectives through structured political processes or ended with the demise of their leaders. Terrorist attacks in countries like Spain (2004 Madrid train bombings) may have influenced domestic policy and outcomes of elections but that was not a military conquest.

2). The obtaining peace and security situation we are currently enjoying is a dividend of the hard work of our men and women in uniform who have gone extra miles in containing the problem (terrorism) at the source. Our Soldiers in Somalia have denied alShabaab significant territory and resources to plan attacks in Somalia and Kenya. Despite the noise we sometimes make regarding the charcoal and sugar rackets, our soldiers have dealt alShabaab a major blow, degrading their capability to attack us.

3). alShabaab, as well as other terrorist groups have been attacking Kenya prior to KDF’s incursion into Somalia in October 2011. Although statistics infer that the number of attacks rose sharply after 2011, there is no guarantee that withdrawing our forces from Somalia will stop alShabaab from attacking Kenya.

4). Kenya is not the only country that has sent troops to Somalia as part of AMISOM. By contrast, out of the approximately 20,000 AMISOM force, KDF accounts for a disproportionately 4,000 personnel. Ethiopia, which shares a longer border with Somalia, has a larger number of personnel within Somalia yet it is not always attacked.

5). alShabaab has mutated over the years from a strategic terrorist organization with a clear nationalistic aim of toppling warlords in Mogadishu. This is in order to establish a truly Somali government to what terrorism scholars refer to as abstract or universalists terrorist group. As an abstract terrorist group, it mainly attacks its targets to send a message it is still lethal, entice new recruits, attract funding from other terrorist groups like Islamic State (IS) and punish dissent. Even if KDF withdraws, alShabaab will continue attacking to raise its profile amongst global terrorist groups.

alShabaab attacks Kenya mainly because of our proximity to its strongholds, strategic geopolitical location, large diplomatic community, well developed tourism industry that is sensitive to travel advisories and high number of local Kenyan jihadists within alShabaab who provide intelligence and assist in planning attacks.

That said Kenya needs to start working on an exit strategy as soon as possible. In the meantime, KDF should strengthen its relations with the clans dominating areas under its control so as to starve the current narrative that it is taking sides in Somali clan politics legitimacy.

Continued investment in homeland security, reduction of blatant corruption within border control mechanisms and mobilizing civil society to strengthen community resilience against violent extremism will in the long run make Kenya secure.

The author is a graduate student at Kisii University, Nairobi Campus.