Oct 8, 2012

Fall of Kismayo

Less than a week ago, Kenyan troops and Ras Kamboni militia rolled into Kismayo unopposed. Alshabab had fled the city few days earlier  realizing they were outgunned and outnumbered. 

It was also a major victory, or a morale boost, for the Kenyan army who had no combat experience beyond their borders before crossing into Somalia. Their declared reasons for the invasion was fighting Alshabab whom they accuse of kidnapping tourists (which wasn't true!). The real reason was to create a buffer zone inside Somalia (embassy cables, wikileaks). The Kenyans were eventually included in the African Union peacekeeping force for Somalia (AMISOM).

So what started off as a Kenyan invasion on a sovereign state is now a peacekeeping mission. 

End of "Alshabab State"
An Alshabab police (hisbah) in Mogadishu (Sept 2011)
The fall of Kismayo is the most significant military setback for Alshabab and it means the collapse of "Alshabab State" though not the movement.

For the few years Alshabab controled central and southern Somalia, they had created state-like structures of police, courts and even they even built roads, and collecting taxes. But for the past year, the group had been retreating from major cities and towns while trying to keep their 'state' intact. Now that they have lost Kismayo, Alshabab is back to a So the loss of taxation and other income from major cities like Kismayo means Alshabab are longer able to maintain police or courts or even recruit young fighters. 

But the end of "Alshabab State" doesn't mean they are gone. They will try to become a guerrilla force and use assassinations and suicide bombings to destabilize the government. But I suspect they will be able to even sustain that for long because they have very little support among the population. 

Future of Kismayo
Kismayo is a difficult city to control because of the clan rivalries and involvement of Somalia's neighbors (Both Ethiopia and Kenya arm and support militias) and as a result Kismayo had changed hands between warring factions more than any other city in Somalia. Already thousands of residents fled Kismayo fearing the worst. 

This time, however, there is a feeling that war in Kismayo can be avoided. Already, there is an effort to create a regional administration for the Juba region, and to make Kismayo its capital. There are meetings going on in Nairobi with different clans represented and under the supervision of East Africa's regional organization IGAD. The new Somali government will also play a role in shaping this new adminitration.

It is key to keep the militias under control, and to avoid clashes or major  human rights abuses that can lead to a cycle of violence and that is the responsibility of the AU peacekeeping force in the city (aka the Kenyan army). 

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