In the early hours of the morning today, reportedly mostly Somali forces – according to Somali sites – were dropped by Kenyan landing ships on the beaches on the outskirts of Kismayo, the southern Somali port city that is the main target of the Kenyan war against the Shabab.
Some Somali sites report that the amphibious force is in the hundreds, but whatever their number, one thing is clear: they have not taken Kismayo contrary to what most news sites are parroting.
The source of the false news that Kismayo had fallen was a Kenyan army spokesman, Cyrus Oguna who had said that the city had “fallen with minimum resistance”. It is easy to jump the gun when, you know, you are not the one really shooting the gun.
As I have written before, losing Kismayo is not such a big deal to the Shabab: they may actually end up making more from discreet “Jihad donations” that they will collect from businesses in the region once they are forced to fully withdraw than from the port itself.
Kismayo is the second biggest city in southern Somalia, after Mogadishu. Holding it has more of a psychological effect than anything.
The battle for Kismayo is not the decisive battle that would decide the fate of the Shabab in southern Somalia, and it is not their “last stronghold” as some news sites report. The Shabab control another port city, Barawe, and many important towns in south and central Somalia. Simply put: the Shabab can drive from Kismayo all the way to near Galka’yo in central Somalia without going through enemy territory. How is that for a “last stronghold”?
The Shabab themselves don’t seem interested in fighting for Kismayo, but seem to be doing it for their tribal allies from…everyone else except the Ogaden, who are mostly represented by the pro-Kenyan faction of the Ras Kamboni Brigade led by Ahmed Madobe.
Radio Andalus aired a speech by the Shabab military spokesman to the “Ansar” (the pro-Shabab clans), telling them to take positions in the city as had been “agreed upon”, suggesting the group had planned to defend the city in conjunction with the clans.
These clans have more reasons than the Shabab to defend Kismayo: they fear that their rivals from the Ogaden want to rule the city with an iron fist and get back at them for past wrongs. The Ogaden had never really ruled Kismayo alone during the civil war – it was either with the Majerten-Harti Morgan administration or the Marehan-Ayr Jubba Valley Alliance ruling the city, for whom they were sometimes auxiliary forces. Now they have the whole Kenyan army helping them take the city, thanks to their fellow clansman, the Ogadeni Kenyan Defence Minister, Mohamed Yusuf Haji – how convenient for them.
Furthermore, they fought with gusto against the Ahmed Madobe faction of the Ras Kamboni Brigade around 3 years ago, deciding to support the Shabab in an apparent effort to get back at the Ogaden for leading the Islamic Courts Union into Kismayo in 2006 – an event that led to the demise of the Jubba Valley Alliance.
This is the kind of region the Jubba areas is: tit for tat; repeat until the end of time. The Kenyan forces are seen just like any other clan: if they kill someone, his relatives will retaliate.
As for the elusive end of the Shabab: we should have realized by now that that won’t happen without solving the legitimate social and political issues that many of the nationalists and clan-based fighters within the group are fighting for. No clan likes being ruled by clan militias from other clans. The Shabab managed to bring harmony within the clans and solve many of the land disputes in their areas of control.
An administration that is all-inclusive and just is the best weapon against the Shabab.
Conquering Kismayo with the help of an Islamist clan militia flimsily masquerading as a national army will not only strengthen Shabab support, but also sow seeds for the Shabab to regenerate once the foreigners leave, while melting into the friendly countryside to harass the allied military convoys, and slowly taking back more territory in the hinterland from the unpopular RKB.
No, this will not be the end of the Shabab. When will somebody think of a comprehensive plan to end the war?