By Otto Bakano - ONE month into Kenya’s military offensive against Somalia’s Shebab fighters, attacks have multiplied back home, aid agencies have expressed concern and troops are bogged down in mud. Kenya, which has traditionally employed non-military means to try to solve two decades of anarchy in neighbouring Somalia, deployed forces across the border on October 14.
A series of kidnappings of foreigners on Kenyan soil and incursions by the Shebab, who control much of southern Somalia, triggered Kenya’s unprecedented offensive. However, after initially pushing some 100 km into Somalia, the forces have made little progress, fought few ground battles and are yet to attack many of the 10 southern Somali towns they singled out as Shebab strongholds and said they would strike.
The Kenyan army said on October 17 it was advancing on the town of Afmadow, about 150 km from the Kenyan border. Weeks later, they are yet to capture the town as heavy rains have hampered movement.
“Right now we are about 15 km away from Afmadow,” army spokesman Major Emmanuel Chirchir said. “The biggest challenge is that it is raining, it is flooded.”
“It’s been tricky. For effective engagement with Al Shebab we need the rain to subside,” he said.
The slow movement could be an advantage to the Shebab, warned former Kenyan army officer Imaana Laibuta.
“It might give the militia enough time to reorganise their defences and move their finances and other movables to safe havens elsewhere,” said Laibuta.
“Ensuring a quick and precise surgical incursion into Afmadow and Kismayo will deny the fighters the chance to move out most of their facilities,” he added, referring to a key Shebab-held port city.
Meanwhile at home, grenade attacks attributed by police to Shebab operatives have increased, with two blasts rocking Nairobi soon after the operation began and at least six people killed in ambushes in areas along the porous border.
“I think it is clear that the Kenyan invasion of Somalia has raised the risk of attacks within Kenya,” said Laura Hammond of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies.