International conflict resolution group on Wednesday called on Kenyan military not to extend its intervention in Somalia and should instead focus on exit strategy to avoid sparking local resistance and retaliation.
The International Crisis Group (ICG) said Kenya which launched cross border incursion in October last year should articulate a clear plan and strategy to support its military actions and ensure lasting peace along the Somalia border.
“As Kenya advances into southern Somalia, it must act cautiously and avoid prolonged ‘occupation’, lest it turn local opinion against the operation and galvanise opposition Al-Shabaab can co-opt, much as happened to Ethiopia in 2006-200,” ICG said in its latest report which was released in Nairobi on Wednesday.
Kenyan forces entered Somalia in October 16, 2011 to push back Al-Shabaab, which controls large sections of southern and central Somalia, is blamed by Nairobi for a series of cross-border kidnappings.
The militant group has also come under pressure from African Union peacekeepers, who pushed them out of the Somali capital Mogadishu in August, and from Ethiopia, which has seized several towns in the Horn of Africa nation.
“Operation Linda Nchi (Protect the Country) was given the go- ahead with what has shown itself to be inadequate political, diplomatic and military preparation,” Abdullahi Boru Halakhe, Crisis Group’s Horn of Africa Analyst said in the latest report published in Nairobi on Wednesday.
“The potential for getting bogged down is high, the risks of an Al-Shabaab retaliatory terror campaign are real, and the prospects for a viable, extremist-free and stable polity emerging in the Juba Valley are slim”.
The Juba Valley is the epicentre of extremist groups.
The militants’ take-over and poor handling of the drought has led to massive emigration from Somalia, putting additional strain on neighbouring countries.
The policy group said the decision to intervene was partly to ease the refugee burden, but also to protect Kenya which hosts more than 500,000 Somali refugees, from the Horn of Africa nation’s crisis by establishing a local administration, Jubaland, in southern Somalia as a buffer between it and Al-Shabaab-controlled territory.
“The project is not inconsistent with the feelings of many inhabitants of Juba, but it could lead to unintended consequences, ” it said adding that inclusive local administration is crucial if peace is to come to the region which has been under control of the militants for many years.
The report titled, the Kenyan Military Intervention in Somalia, examines the October 2011 decision to deploy Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) to fight the militant Islamist group Al-Shabaab in the Juba Valley.
It also highlights the risks of a prolonged operation that could spur local armed resistance and terrorist retaliation inside Kenya.
According to the report, the east African nation should ensure that the intervention is more carefully planned than it has been to date, with assessable goals and an exit strategy in order to counter Al-Shabaab.
It also said that KDF should ensure that any major offensives, either individually or as part of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), are accompanied by a political strategy that is grounded in collaboration with local clans and social groups to avoid destabilising the region.
The global conflict resolution group said Nairobi should also address Somalis’ fears of domination by the majority clan, the Ogaden, by collaborating with regional and wider international partners, including the UN, U.S. and Britain, to promote local mediation and governance, and in particular ensure fair control over Kismayo port’s revenues.
“Creating stability in southern Somalia (and beyond) requires not only defeating Al-Shabaab,” EJ Hogendoorn, Crisis Group’s Horn of Africa Project Director.
He called on Kenya and its partners to also develop a political plan with attractive incentives for local clans to work together and share the region’s wealth and foreign aid.
“Otherwise, there is little chance for long-term peace in the Juba Valley,” Hogendoorn said cautioning the KDF to avoid urban combat.
ICG said targeting Kismayo port, Al-Shabaab’s main money source, makes sense, but to limit its own as well as civilian casualties, it should allow time for an economic blockade (with humanitarian aid exceptions) and attrition from multiple-front combat to weaken its increasingly unpopular enemy and produce shifts in local support.