Al Shabaab war drives new Ethiopia-Kenya-Uganda intelligence alliance
The war in Somalia has led to closeR intelligence collaboration between Burundi, Djibouti, Kenya and Uganda that is thought to have thwarted plans by the Al Shabaab militia to launch terror attacks in the region over Christmas and New Year holidays.
The first public indication of this increasingly tight-knit intelligence networking from countries with troops in Somalia came during the November 2011 extraordinary session of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (Igad), held to discuss the Somalia crisis. It has emerged that there was a technical meeting on the sidelines to try hammer out a framework for joint operations.
Kenya’s Assistant Minister for Internal Security, Joshua Orwa Ojode, noted that there was a close collaboration among all the neighbouring states in monitoring Al Shabaab activities.
“Even though each state has its separate intelligence gathering network, we call each other often and exchange information on the activities of Al Shabaab. However, there is no joint regional intelligence entity to deal with the group,” he said.
With Kenya’s entry into the war, followed by Ethiopia’s return a month later, sources tell The EastAfrican that Nairobi has become a “beehive of intelligence co-ordination” for the war effort in Somalia.
Kenya and Uganda, for instance, had warned citizens of major reprisal attacks over Christmas and New Year celebrations, but the holidays passed without incident, barring a grenade attack at a Garissa nightclub on December 31.
Analysts said the fact that the attacks did not happen deeper into Kenya indicated that it a faction of Al Shabaab without a regional network was involved — possibly non-Somali fighters from Afghanistan and the Middle East who have joined the militia in recent years.
An Amisom source agreed. “If they were Somali, they would not be concentrating their attacks in parts of Kenya populated almost exclusively by Kenyan Somalis,” he said.
The inability of the Shabaab to attack over the holiday season, apart from the fact that they are probably quite weakened, could also be because the ethnic Somali populations in the other East African countries “have not bought into the terrorist project,” he argued.
But for the security agencies in the region, it is not yet time to celebrate.
Last week, the Kenyan police warned that Al Qaeda operatives had joined Al Shabaab to plot attacks on key installations in the country and beyond.
Nevertheless, the co-operation among countries in the region recently enabled Kenya to publish the names of 15 suspects with Al Shabaab connections who are believed to have entered the country from Kismayu. The group comprises nine Kenyans, two “Asians” and four Somalis aged between 24 and 32.
On January 4, defence ministers and senior military officers of six East African countries met in Addis Ababa to work out a strategy to deal with Al Shabaab.
They endorsed a plan to increase the authorised strength of the Amisom force from 12,000 to 17,700 troops.
This came amid ongoing discussions in Addis Ababa between the African Union Mission in Somalia, (Amisom), the Kenyans and Ethiopians on the conduct of joint operations in 2012.
The discussions centred on how to assign each country joining Amisom specific regions of engagement to avoid confrontation between the military operations and misunderstanding between the various forces.
In an effort to further enhance co-operation, ministers in charge of security from the five East African Community states will be meeting in Arusha from January 16-19 to review the situation.
The meeting, under the auspices of the EAC Sectoral Council on Co-operation in Defence, Inter-State Security and Foreign Policy Co-ordination, will discuss issues relating to early warning and conflict prevention mechanisms.
Kenya Defence Force spokesperson Emmanuel Chirchir would not be drawn on the scope of future operations, but said a clear picture will emerge after the ongoing meeting on Amisom military operations in Addis.
KDF has begun closing in on Al Shabaab since the beginning of the year.
On January 4, three of its fighters including one of the commanders in charge of the Gedo region, identified as Sheikh Hassan Hussein, were killed.
Al Shabaab also lost several villages and adjacent rural lands in Takora, Bay-Jamal, Degalab, Jungal, Makoley, Eel Adde and Eel Gaduud.
Ethiopian troops are supporting pro-government militias in the central region, where they recently captured most of the central Somali town of Beledweyne from Al Shabaab militants.
Rashid Abdi, a Somalia specialist with the International Crisis Group, noted that Amisom, Ethiopian, KDF and other troops in Somalia have managed to substantially dismantle the command structure of Al Shabaab by killing senior leaders in the past one year, affecting the militia’s planning and logistics capacity.
But he warned that the fact that Al Shabaab did not retaliate over the holidays does not mean that they are down and out.
Mr Abdi said that there is still a wide gap on the Kenyan side in terms of training to pre-empt attacks and a knowledge base on the Shabaab, compared with Ethiopia, which is better equipped because of its history of intervention in Somalia.
While Kenya last month asked to join Amisom, Ethiopia has said that it will not join the UN mission and plans to leave Somalia soon.
This raises the questions of whether the AU will try to persuade more countries to join to fill the gap left by Ethiopian troops once they withdraw.
In Mogadishu, the recent entry of Djibouti has boosted Amisom, which now controls 98 per cent of the city. Signs that the militia are feeling the heat came last week when Al Shabaab leaders reacted angrily to news that the AU is arranging to intensify its military campaign, a move the militants described as plans for “terrorist attacks.”
In a sign that war-weary Somalis are optimistic that the tide could be turning, a recent meeting in Garowe, Puntland saw the first discussion on something some leaders of the TGF in Mogadishu had been avoiding — the shape of a future federal Somalia.
The sensitivity of this issue had led to suspicion that Kenya and Ethiopia were part of a plot with the US and NATO to balkanise Somalia into mini-states run by different clans as a strategy to suck out the oxygen from the militants, and also partly as a self-interested ploy to establish spheres of influence.
Puntland, unlike Somaliland, has indicated that it is willing to rejoin Somalia if it embraces the idea of a true federation or loose confederation.
The haggling over a post-conflict Somalia might just have begun.