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Plan to create security buffer zone on Kenya-Somalia border taking shape

By Cyrus Ombati | October 5th 2020

A plan by Kenya to create a security buffer zone on the porous Somalia border is slowly taking shape, albeit with sluggishness and resistance.

The plan includes creation of at least 17 border posts on the 700-kilometre-long border with well-equipped personnel to respond to any form of aggression. The teams will be spread 40 kilometres apart to enable quick response to attacks from Al Shabaab militants.

So far, authorities have dug a trench and constructed a 20-kilometre long fence in Mandera as part of efforts to secure the area. The fence has helped reduce incidents of attacks by the militants who cross the border at will.

Officials aware of the plan say the security agencies are getting much-needed boost from various development partners including the British and US governments.

The British government recently donated seven fully-equipped containers to be used as police posts. The containers are fireproof and are equipped with an armoury that may take upto 10 hours to break in.

Last month, the US government donated 39 four-wheel drive cars to be used by the Administration Police’s Border Patrol Unit.

Further, a team of about 200 special forces has been created to respond to any need within the border area. This follows the directive by President Uhuru Kenyatta to station two planes at Wajir military base for response to any form of attack.

“Wajir is now an operation zone for responding to any attack by the criminals. It is well equipped with choppers and other rescue planes to help troops in the frontline,” said an official.

The plans are being implemented in anticipation of a plan by the Amisom troops to withdraw from Somalia. To weaken Al Shabaab’s presence, Somali forces work alongside troops from the African Union peacekeeping operations, which include forces from Kenya, Djibouti, Burundi, Uganda and Ethiopia. Kenya, in particular, has been a frequent target of Al-Shabaab retaliatory attacks.

A research by government security agencies say 30 per cent of the country’s security problems are traced to the porous Somalia border often penetrated by terrorists to attack Kenyan towns.

Operational changes

The plans have been boosted by President Kenyatta’s order for changes in the operations of the units within the National Police Service. For instance, Administration Police Service (APS) is now completely specialised on its core mandate that includes border patrols, guarding critical infrastructure and dealing with stock theft.

Under the new structure, the APS has formed units that include the Rapid Deployment Unit (RDU), Border Police Unit (BPU), APS Stock Theft Prevention Unit (APS - ASTU) and Critical Infrastructure Protection Unit (CIPU).

The BPU has established a training college in Kanyonyo in Mwingi, Kitui County, to train and deploy personnel to the border area. The college is constructing a 60-bed capacity hospital and an airport to boost their operations.

It has installed a 3D shooting range to enhance training of their personnel.

Officials say the Kenya government is concerned that Mogadishu is not keen in fighting or containing Al Shabaab operations in their country, enabling the terror group to continuously attack Kenyan territories.

This has forced the government to now focus on border security.

“We will make it with the support of all stakeholders who include locals. It is our country and we must protect it from these criminals,” Deputy Inspector General of APS Noor Gabow said.

But those aware of the developments said the personnel at the BPU college are first trained before they are deployed to the areas unlike in the past when they were transferred there without training, leading them to Al Shabaab traps.

Police stations near the main border are being moved about 20 kilometres into Kenya to allow the BPU personnel to take charge after the areas were declared an operation zone. Kenyans with complaints and in need police attention are directed to the nearest stations.

According to those aware of the plans, Kenya is also working with Somali authorities and helping them set up similar buffer zones 10 to 20 kilometres from the main border to stop the insurgents.

“By the time they reach the Kenyan border, we will have known about them from our counterparts inside Somalia,” the source said.

Somalia has not had an effective central government since the 1991 overthrow of President Siad Barre’s military regime. The coup ushered in more than two decades of anarchy and conflict in a country deeply divided along clan lines.

Kenya launched Operation Linda Nchi on October 14, 2011 after gunmen seized tourists at the Coast. The government then declared Al Shabaab a threat to Kenya’s sovereignty as it targeted the nation’s economic lifeline — tourism. 

On the other side, the US military’s Africa Command is pressing for new authorities to carry out armed drone strikes targeting the Al Shabaab fighters in portions of eastern Kenya, potentially expanding the war zone across the border from their sanctuaries in Somalia, according to four American officials who talked to the New York Times.

But President Kenyatta has indicated he will not allow that to happen.

The guidelines would theoretically authorise not only drone strikes in self-defence of American troops or collective self-defence of partnered Kenyan forces, but also offensive strikes intended to pre-empt a suspected threat — like if officials uncovered intelligence about preparations at a compound to assemble a car bomb.

Drone strikes

In recent years, Al Shabaab, which American intelligence analysts estimate has 5,000 to 10,000 fighters, has lost many of the cities and villages they once controlled. Despite facing a record number of American drone strikes, the group has morphed into a more nimble and lethal outfit, carrying out large-scale attacks against civilian and military targets across Somalia and in neighbouring countries.

Last year, the militants attacked the Dusit complex in Nairobi, killing at least 21 people. The same gang had attacked Garissa University College in 2015 and killed almost 150 people, most of them students. In 2013, they attacked Westgate Shopping Mall in Naiobi and killed at least 67 people.

But the brazen assault on January 5, 2020, of a sleepy seaside base in Lamu near the Somali border took American and Kenyan troops by surprise. Armed with rifles and explosives, about a dozen terror fighters destroyed an American surveillance plane as it was taking off and ignited hourslong gunfight.

The attack set in motion the push by the US for the new authorities to protect the roughly 200 American soldiers, airmen, sailors and Marines, as well as about 100 Pentagon civilian employees and contractors in Kenya, helping to train and assist local forces.

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