Presidents talk tough
By Moses Njagih and Agencies
Wednesday, 16th November 2011
Heads of State of Kenya, Somalia and Uganda have closed ranks over the need to stabilise the war-torn nation and build on recent military gains against Al Shabaab. As part of a new agreement, Kenyan troops will join the Amisom force operating in Mogadishu, alongside Ugandan and Burundian soldiers. The force is under-strength, with just 9,300 troops, well shy of the optimum 12,000 the African Union recommended. The goal is to help the heavily pressed Amisom force retain control of the 98 per cent of Somalia’s capital Mogadishu that it recently recaptured from the insurgents, and allow the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) to extend its control beyond the capital.
President Kibaki’s office said in a statement that the meeting had “welcomed Kenya’s willingness to deploy troops to Amisom”.
The statement did not say if Kenyan troops already inside southern Somalia would be included in the force, or whether the contribution would consist of a separate batch of troops.
About 3,000 members of the Kenya Defence Forces are said to be active in the battle against Al Shabaab.
Other sources indicated to The Standard that President Museveni was central to piecing together the deal and bringing Somalia’s TFG President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed on board, one month after the TFG leader condemned the Kenyan-led ‘Operation Linda Nchi’ against Al Shabaab.
Soon after he made the comments, Kenya voiced its protest and Ahmed flew to Uganda for talks with Museveni, while his Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohammed arrived in Nairobi to cool tempers and declare his government’s support for the operation on condition that KDF works with its soldiers.
Museveni, Kibaki and Ahmed announced the deal on the day the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) marked 30 days since they began their offensive against Al Shabaab insurgents.
However, journalists were not allowed to field questions at the press conference. It was Foreign Affairs Minister Moses Wetangula who read out the joint communiquÈ by the three leaders.
At the same time Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) officials made what could be a significant breakthrough in penetrating what police suspect is a terrorist recruitment and smuggling network when they unearthed fake Somali passports and identification cards.
Finger print machine
The KRA officials chanced on the documents during a routine inspection of a 40ft container from the United Arab Emirates at a dry port owned by Consolbase Ltd in Mombasa.
A company by the name Machine Technology allegedly imported the container. Also found were fingerprint machines.
The Somali-based Islamic militant group is aligned with Al Qaeda and its Yemen-based affiliate, the Arabian Peninsula.
The leaders called for regional solidarity in the fight against Al Shabaab, saying the operation by the Kenya Defence Forces and TFG had provided a perfect opportunity to end atrocities committed by the terror group in Somalia and restore order to the war-torn country.
The three presidents met at State House, Nairobi, where they agreed to maintain the momentum of ‘Operation Linda Nchi’ by sending Kenyan troops to reinforce the forces waging the battle against the militia group.
The leaders said the battle waged by Amisom had led to relative liberation of Mogadishu and its environs from the Al Shabaab menace, and thus called for more support to help crush the militia.
“The presidents paid tribute to Amisom and the Troop Contributing Countries for their continued sacrifices in the pursuit of peace and security in Somalia, which has resulted in the liberation of Mogadishu,” the leaders added in the communiquÈ.
The presidents said the joint Kenya-Somali operation presents the region with a “historic opportunity” to restore stability and security in Somalia and called for regional solidarity to end the lawlessness that has lasted two decades.
“In this regard, the meeting emphasised the need for enhancing co-ordination between Amisom, TFG forces and the Kenya Defence Forces in order to successfully defeat Al Shabaab,” read the communiquÈ.
The leaders expressed concern that Kenya was left to bear the heavy burden of supporting hundreds of refugees fleeing Somalia.
They appealed to the international community to assist humanitarian aid agencies relocate refugees to secure parts of southern Somalia already under control of the TFG and KDF forces.
The three presidents are seeking enhanced co-operation between Somali, Kenyan and AU forces in the fight against Al Shabaab.
Somalia has been in chaos for two decades following the 1991 ouster of longtime dictator Siad Barre.
The heads of state also stressed the need for more engagement by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development in galvanising international support for the joint Kenya-Somalia operation with a view to building on the momentum.
Recruiting al shabaab
The calls came as it emerged the US and Britain are getting increasingly concerned that Al Shabaab has stepped up recruitment of their citizens to fight the TFG in Somalia.
On Tuesday, Kenya’s envoy to the UN, Macharia Kamau, said, “Over 40 known American citizens” are in Somalia, warning that there was “a direct line” from the group “right back to American cities” that “poses a clear and present danger for Americans”.
Cautioned Kamau: “We should never forget that what’s going on in Somalia, while it might appear to be far away, out in the middle of nowhere, has tentacles that stretch back to the United States.”
And he made a fresh appeal to the US to consider imposing a blockade on the rebel-held Somali port of Kismayu to choke off the insurgents’ supply line, a move Washington has been reluctant to support.
Late last month, the military and police arrested two 18-year-old men from Cardiff, Wales, along Kenya’s border with Somalia. The father of one of the men told the BBC his son was “brainwashed” to join an Islamic holy war, and was on his way to link up with the insurgents.
The two were deported to Britain, but released by the UK police after questioning, without any charges.
British and US counter-terrorism investigators are now raising the red flag over the growing stream of Americans and Britons heading to Somalia, pointing to a recruitment video, circulated on the Internet last year. It features foreign fighters appealing to their fellow Muslims in various languages, including English, Swedish and Kiswahili, to join Al Shabaab.
In July last year, investigators from America’s Homeland Security established that over 40 US citizens had joined Al Shabaab since 2007.
The US city of Minneapolis, which has the heaviest concentration of American-Somalis, accounted for at least 24 of these individuals.