Joakim Mwamburi, fourth brigade commander of Kenyan forces in Sector 2, southern Somalia answers questions on Kenya army’s war on Al Shabaab in Somalia
How far is this operation from victory and how will victory look like?
Victory will not be a one-off event. It will be seen when we hand over the security of the country to the SNA but still sleep soundly back home, knowing that Somali people are going on with their lives normally and all institutions of governance and the criminal justice system are functioning unhindered.
This is the reason we are not relenting in the fight until the threat, whether in Kenya or Somalia, is neutralised, and we bring this culture of violence that has been synonymous with Somalia to a lasting end.
What is the progress made so far?
We started under the code name Operation Linda Nchi on October 4, 2011. This was after constant al Shabaab interference in Kenya’s economy and affairs, including repeated grenade attacks, rampant piracy and kidnappings on the shores of Malindi and Lamu.
Operation Linda Nchi culminated in Operation Sledge Hammer, the capture of Kismayu, before the Kenyan army was absorbed into Amisom following a request by Africa nations through the AU. KDF then joined other countries to further pacify Sector 2, namely Burundi, Djibouti, Siera Leone and Uganda.
Gains so far include pacification of sector 2, clearance of main supply routes and degradation of Al Shabaab. Since 2014, we have been building the capacity of the Somali National Army (SNA) and mentoring them through joint patrols, ambushes, escorts and raids. We are also supporting the local administration by identifying and training them to fill gaps in the provision of security and social services, such as education and medical service. So we give the people, especially the children of Somalia, hope.
We have supported repatriation of refugees since 2014; over 79000 have been voluntarily repatriated in Somalia. In January and March this year, we have heard 3,199 refuges destined to lower Juba, Kismayu Afmadow and Baidoa.
We have intensified our civilian-military cooperation. All our Forward Operations Bases conduct free medical camps in areas they occupy and organise community sports tournaments.
How was Somalia’s national and social fabric before you came here, and how is the rebuilding taking shape?
Upon our entry here, there was nothing worth talking about. Today specifically, speaking about Jubaland, where sector 2 is operating, the institutions are now being built even though at a slow pace because of funding, and the revenue from markets isn’t sufficient. The region needs capacity building and more support for faster reconstruction.
Sector 2, which is under the KDF, is termed the toughest, and Jubaland is where the Shabaab head resides. How long will it take to degrade it fully and why do they find it easy to operate in this region?
This enemy doesn’t have boundaries. It moves from sector 2 to 3 and back. It thrives here because of the vast terrain, heavy vegetation and poor infrastructure, in terms of roads. Because of the canopy, even our aerial assets are at times unable to pick them out, but we will endeavour to deal with them.
Nevertheless, our war is intelligence-led. This gives us precision on attacks and raids getting to the core of al Shabaab. At the moment, we have degraded them. They can’t put up a fight. They now engage in asymmetrical warfare, using improvised mobile control explosives to launch attacks. They have been degraded to a level that they can’t face any force or put a fight, and most are defecting to join rehabilitation facilities and be integrated back into the society.
There are parts in Sector 2 where al Shabaab still enjoys local support. Why is this so and what are you doing about it?
Al Shabaab operates within the populations and sometimes has exploited ungoverned spaces in those areas. But our civilian-military relations engagements are key to changing that support. We pacify an area then develop it by providing necessary services to the population, rendering al Shabaab ideology irrelevant.
Is Kenya ready to move with the UN resolution and hand over security to SNA, so KDF can exit Somalia?
We are ready to exit Somalia anytime, but we need to build capacity of local forces to a level that we are sure SNA is ready to defend their country. In that, when we hand over the areas we are occupying, they are able to hold ground and not be pushed out the following day. We are ready to leave but with a caveat so the gains are not lost.
The SNA are upbeat in terms of recruitment and training, and we look forward to mentoring them so they are ready to take over by 2020. However, the October drawdown and the phase 2 that kicks in on January-June next year, we ask for its delay until the force they said will recruit 1,000 people in each region is ready to replace Amisom troops.
What will it take to rebuild a formidable SNA?
Issues of clan cannot be wished away. This is where the hurdle lies. Therefore, it will start by integrating clans in terms of where they are coming from, as it won’t work if integration starts from a national level. The integration, however, should start right from the district level then to the regions. Those units then can be merged at the top to form a national army.
SOURCE: The Star