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Dispatch: Kenya's Military Engagement Against Al Shabaab

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Africa Analyst Mark Schroeder discusses the strategy behind Kenya's incursion into Somalia to combat Islamist militia al Shaabab.

Editor’s Note: Transcripts are generated using speech-recognition technology. Therefore, STRATFOR cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

Kenyan military forces are continuing their press into southern Somalia, and an estimated 4,000 Kenyan forces are converging from three vectors, from Kenya, into southern Somalia and it would appear that their intended target is the southern Somali port town of Kismayo. Now, Kismayo is extremely notable as it is the stronghold of the transnationalist faction of the Somali jihadist group al Shabaab.

The Kenyan intervention is not an original concept, even though it's going on two weeks old. This operation harkens back a couple of years and is part of an overall regional strategy to combat and isolate the Somali jihadists. Until now, this fight has largely been led by African Union peacekeeping forces, or AMISOM, who are found predominantly in Mogadishu. But Ethiopian military forces and Ethiopian-backed militias have also had a considerable part of this counterinsurgency campaign.

Now these 4,000 Kenyan military forces are not likely to be able to defeat al Shabaab. What will likely end up being the reaction from al Shabaab is a withdraw into a triangle of southern Somalia that al Shabaab can basically call home. This triangle is bounded by Kismayo, the city on the southern coastal region of Somalia, Baidoa in south-central and in Mogadishu, along the coast as well. Within this triangle, al Shabaab can maneuver, but with the Kenyan encroachment of the South, continued Ethiopian militia support from central Somalia and AMISOM within Mogadishu itself, territory that al Shabaab has to maneuver is becoming increasingly limited. There are likely overflight operations by U.S. and other Western forces in the region, who will be constantly engaged in trying to identify, pinpoint, isolate and remove high-value targets within the al Shabaab leadership. Particularly, those individuals such as Godane and al-Afghani.

But al Shabaab is known for declining combat when it comes to a pitched battle. So, should the Kenyans approach Kismayo and fight their way through towns such as Afmadow, the al Shabaab fighters found there will likely decline combat. Al Shabaab's strength is clearly in waging guerrilla-style warfare. The Kenyan military forces engaged in Somalia are not likely to stay there as an occupation force for the long-term, instead, to establish a robust buffer zone to then withdraw in favor of a renewed and robust Somali militia, but leaving increasingly narrow territory for al Shabaab to maneuver.

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