Why an open-ended military campaign in Somalia may prove to be very expensive

Men suspected to be fleeing members of Al -Shabaab are arrested in Lamu. GALGALO BOCHA

“Operation Linda Nchi” has failed to rescue any of the individuals kidnapped by the Al Shabaab militants who took their victims back into Somalia.

By all accounts, Kenya’s northern border with Somalia remains completely open to refugees and terrorists alike; insecurity has increased in Kenyan towns along the border and roads used by security personnel within Kenya have been mined or booby trapped by Al Shabaab supporters.

Six weeks into “Operation Linda Nchi” there is no longer any strategic reason for the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) to remain on the ground occupying towns and villages in South Central Somalia.

By withdrawing into Forward Expeditionary Bases located within close proximity to the International Border KDF, elements can be reorganised into “Combined Arms Task Forces” in order to continue the mission of securing the nation’s border with Somalia.

Good news

The KDF was apparently given orders on 4th October 2011 by the properly constituted civilian authorities within the Government of Kenya to prepare to launch a military campaign in retaliation for increasingly brazen and economically harmful cross border raids into Kenya by Al Shabaab elements operating from South Central Somalia.

My October 25, 2011 article in the Business Daily (READ: There is a better, cost-effective way to fight Al-Shabaab) stated for the record that the conventional armoured assault launched during the weekend of October 15th and 16th was “the most expensive and militarily ineffective option available without regard for weather conditions, cost or accepted counter – insurgency doctrine.”
Nevertheless, without changing my opinion, the fact is that the KDF has demonstrated its “can do” spirit and ability to project military power in response to the legitimate orders of an elected civilian government.

To date, there have been very few KDF combat casualties or losses of personnel to disease, vehicle accidents or friendly fire.

Despite the failure of the Kenyan government to provide any reliable information concerning this military operation , there has been minimal loss of aircraft, combat equipment, naval vessels, weapons systems or vehicles during an environmentally and logistically challenging campaign.

That is the good news. More good news is that Somali civilian casualties during the past six weeks are low.

The bad news is that an open – ended campaign will become increasingly expensive in terms of blood and treasure.

The seemingly off-the-cuff remarks by politicians holding security dockets to the effect that this operation will end at some time between August and December 2012 show a failure to appreciate the negative consequences – whether political, military or economic – of continuing “Operation Linda Nchi.”

KDF ground units are bogged down in the mud of South Central Somalia or marooned in the vicinity of Ras Kamboni on the Indian Ocean. Bad weather seems to have severely limited sorties by fixed wing ground attack aircraft as well as KDF attack helicopters.

The silver lining in this otherwise cloudy and dismal picture is that this near-total halt in operations means that expenditures associated with this incursion are less than anyone could have anticipated.

During the last six weeks, there has obviously been a marked decline in fuel consumption or ammunition and ordinance expended and there should have been no major increase in maintenance costs or payments for equipment replacement.

This happy picture will change for the worse the longer “Operation Linda Nchi” continues and KDF units remain in Somalia.

Heavy rains are forecast for the foreseeable future which will degrade KDF readiness and capabilities across all services as boredom, fatigue and the stress of being in a war zone without relief and without any established end date starts wearing on troops and machines.

The failure by successive GoK administrations and defence ministers to fully implement the 1980 Armed Forces Act by establishing a military reserve means that the KDF cannot replace or rotate aircrews, technicians, pilots or ground combat units, regardless of conditions in the operational area.

Leaving KDF ground units deployed deep into South Central Somalia or strung out along a single unreliable supply route and subject to hit and run attacks by small units of Al – Shabaab is a recipe for disaster in the New Year.

KDF has advantages (e.g. better discipline, professional training, more lethal weaponry, greater mobility – weather permitting – superior logistical support and established command and control networks) that should be preserved for use when the KDF moves into the next phase of an ongoing campaign to restore security and stability along Kenya’s northern border.

Mounting insecurity

Shortly after “Operation Linda Nchi” was launched there were two grenade attacks within the Nairobi CBD.

These initial attacks resulted in significant business losses – reported as Sh100 million per week – as well as increased expenditure on metal detectors, various devices to check for bombs and additional security guards at entrances to shopping malls, restaurants and office buildings throughout Nairobi; presumably, similar measures have been introduced in all of Kenya’s urban areas.

These new expenditures on security will eventually be paid by consumers.

Increased police activities to counter Al – Shabaab terrorism after the KDF entered Somalia requires greater – and unexpected – GoK finding to accommodate the costs of providing additional security throughout Kenya.

Because Kenya has a finite number of trained police personnel, there is the inevitable deterioration in performance when numbers are stretched thin and hours of service are increased with no end date, no relief and no replacements.

The Kenyan economy was tanking under the weight of inflation, tight liquidity, excessive government spending, too much state borrowing, diminishing FDI and growing uncertainty about future business prospects.

And this was before “Operation Linda Nchi” was launched! Regardless of circumstance, time or country, warfare is not cheap and paying for an open-ended military commitment will shatter Kenya’s already beleaguered economy.

All of the jet setting and overseas travel by GoK officials, ostensibly to garner international support for Kenya’s War on Terror, have been an expensive waste of time and money with no tangible result beyond the expected show of verbal support including effusive praise for the country’s “boldness and (new found) determination.”

No additional funding support has been pledged. No deliveries of new military or security – related equipment has been promised. Where is the free fuel from the UAE, Saudi Arabia or even the United States and the EU?

The plain and unpleasant truth is simply that there will be no additional financial support or material assistance for Kenya’s unilateral military campaign in Somalia.

Meanwhile, nearly unnoticed, Al Shabaab bombings and shootings – often directed at Kenyan security personnel or “Christian” targets in Garissa or Mandera – have been steadily increasing.

The focus of Al Shabaab terrorism is on both sides of the northern border. Its efforts are calculated to further destabilise South Central Somalia by denying its own population access to famine relief supplies and medical assistance; the flow of starving refugees across Kenya’s border will overwhelm any existing emergency relief capabilities in Northern Kenya.

Recent measures by Kenya to eliminate security threats to military facilities have truly brought this conflict home to the capital.

The unnecessary demolition of homes, apartments and businesses in Eastleigh almost seem designed to create permanent enmity and hostility within the ethnic Somali community residing in Nairobi.

These structures were security threats as soon as ground was broken for their construction.

The simple interim solution was to order the inhabitants to evacuate their homes which would have remained under lock and key for the duration.

The permanent solution is to relocate existing aviation facilities infantry barracks and logistics sites to new bases outside of Nairobi which would be developed to support KDF operations against today’s national security threats rather than meet the needs of the 1930s colonial authorities.

Since mid-October the entire region seems more insecure. The introduction of Ethiopian forces into Somalia outside of AMISOM and without co-ordination with the KDF operating in South Central Somalia, has increased the danger to Kenya’s peace and security.

The still unresolved questions arising from shipments of weapons by air into the Al Shabaab held airfield at Baidoa from Eritrea, may soon be dwarfed by similar mystery flights from Khartoum.

And, if today’s political class cannot handle real world issues and recognise that “business as usual” is the road to national disaster, there is an election coming up. First, bomb and crater the airfield in Baidoa. Next, withdraw the KDF from Somalia.

Mr Franklin is a Nairobi-based financial services consultant and a former US Marine

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