May 20, 2012: As the Kenyan military incursion continues in Somalia, many Kenyans have begun asking the government to tell them how long the conflict will last. The questions echo similar ones Ethiopians asked as the Ethiopian invasion in 2006 led to a prolonged three-year struggle with Somali militant Islamist militias.

At the moment, the majority of the Kenyan people still seem to agree that their government had to do something about the cross-border attacks by Al Shabaab terrorists in 2011 and militant Islamist trouble-making in Kenya (three examples: kidnapping tourists, harassing aid organizations and trying to get Kenyan Muslims to launch a revolt). In October 2011 the government did do something, in a major way. Now, Kenyan military and paramilitary police units have crossed international borders before, in either hot pursuit operations (usually pursuing cattle raiders) or raiding base camps (usually of tribal raiders). The Somali incursion was no raid, but a full-fledged, extended offensive military operation by the Kenyan Defense Forces (KDF, Kenyan Army). Kenya supported its ground forces with air and naval forces. Moreover, it was the first such offensive operation by Kenyan military forces since the country became independent. The government insisted that defending Kenya’s territorial integrity was the strategic objective of Operation Linda Nchi (Swahili for Operation Protect the Nation). To achieve that strategic objective, the KDF had two military operational objectives: drive Al Shabaab away from the Kenya-Somalia border region and, in the process, significantly damage (if not destroy) the militant Islamist organization’s military capabilities in southern Somalia. The real strategic triumph would be to translate Al Shabaab’s loss of territory and military damage into a fatal political defeat for Al Shabaab.

As the KDF entered the fray in the Somalia’s south, Ethiopia launched its own Somalia incursion in November 2011. Pro-Somali government militia fighters (ie, supporters of the Somalia Transitional National Government, TNG, also called the Transitional Federal Government) were soon operating with Ethiopian forces. Al Shabaab, already battling African Union forces in the Mogadishu region, now faced two new axes of attack. Various militant Islamist groups (Islamic Courts Union then Al Shabaab) had been fencing with Ethiopian forces in central and south-central Somalia since the official Ethiopian military withdrawal in January 2009 (what supposedly ended the 2006 war). However, the Kenyan operation was threatening what had been an Al Shabaab rear area (and certainly a comparatively safe area).

Eventually we will learn just how closely specific Kenyan combat operations in the south were coordinated with the Ethiopian/pro-TNG coalition combat operations in central and south-central Somalia. There is no doubt that coordination has occurred at the campaign level.

Ethiopia (seeking to avoid another extended stay in Somalia) has said it will withdraw most of its forces, as AU peacekeepers assume the area protection and security mission. AU peacekeeping forces have begun backfilling in the areas from which Ethiopian/pro-TNG forces have driven Al Shabaab Islamist fighters. So far, no AU peacekeepers have backfilled behind the KDF.

Kenyan forces in Somalia are supposed to eventually become part of the AU peacekeeping force. Though that strikes many as a good political move (East African nations support it, the AU supports it), some analysts are wondering if re-hatting Kenyan forces will commit Kenya to an even longer military presence in Somalia. See the emerging political problem? If Kenyan forces provide their own backfill, and an insurgency erupts, critics (and then the political opposition) will scream quagmire. And they already are.

Critics also point to Kismayo. Last fall the Kenyan military made it clear that the Somali seaport of Kismayo was key objective. Al Shabaab used it as a communications and supply ink to Yemen and Eritrea. It is also a pirate haven, which is no surprise, since Al Shabaab maintains close ties with Somali pirates. When Kenyan forces took Ras Kamboni in October 2011, the government said that Kismayo would be next. A mission accomplished moment? It is now late May 2012 and Al Shabaab still controls Kismayo. Incursion critics ask why Kismayo remains in Al Shabaab’s hands. Failure to seize Kismayo has become a political problem. Is the KDF reluctant or incompetent?

Earlier this year, Kenyan military officials suggested that the KDF was being methodical, not reluctant. A direct attack on Kismayo runs the risk of degenerating into a huge and bloody urban street battle. To avoid that, the KDF said it sought political dialog with various Somali clans in the Kismayo area. Last month a statement attributed to senior government officials (no names) indicated that Kenyan Army officers were in fact working with several clans and clan militias (yes, they often have different agendas as well as rivalries) to reach a consensus on policing the Kismayo region.

Cynics suggested that the Kenyans were delaying as assault on Kismayo until Ethiopian forces could participate in the attack. The cynics have a case. A senior Ethiopian officer serving in Somalia was quoted this week as saying that Ethiopian forces had fulfilled their mission in Somalia and that Ethiopian forces might help liberate Kismayo. He also told the press he wondered why Kenyan forces had not yet taken Kismayo and indicated that they were supposed to attack it when Ethiopian forces were attacking Baidoa in February. This is another public signal that Kenya and Ethiopia are coordinating their military campaigns. Kenya certainly had the ground and air combat power to attack Kismayo then, and still has the power.

The Ethiopians would likely add a substantial armored punch to an assault on Kismayo, and from a Kenyan military and political perspective that would be worth waiting for. The Ethiopians might accuse the Kenyans of failing to meet their commitment, or, worse, letting Ethiopians do the bleeding. That could lead to political friction between two nations that increasingly see themselves as allies and economic partners.

But to dismiss out of hand the methodical approach the KDF leaders claim they are pursuing is a mistake. So here’s a scenario: the Kenyans have re-considered their operations in southern Somalia in light of their strategic goal of securing territorial integrity. Real security requires a stable, peaceful political relationship with the people of southern Somalia. So the KDF wants to begin building that political relationship on the ground in Somalia.

Several of Kenya’s international allies (the U.S., Ethiopia, Britain, Australia) have special forces personnel trained to facilitate these tricky political discussions and security operations. The Kenyans have their own cadre of personnel with a track record for conducting successful multi-tribal and inter-clan negotiations in neighboring nations. Kenyans helped resolve several violent Dinka-Nuer tribal disputes in southern Sudan, prior to the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that ended Sudan’s north-south civil war.

The Kismayo region political-military (pol-mil) effort posited in this scenario utilizes political skills employed in the southern Sudan peacemaking mission. Both have very detailed intelligence requirements. Detailed really means detailed, which is one reason the process takes time. For example, the personal ambitions and histories of individual local leaders always affect the process. Talks can end (or never start) and agreements can unravel because Clan Leader X just despises Clan Leader Y. (Why does X despise Y? Negotiators need to know. They might need to seek an agreement between Clan Y and Clan Z first, because Clan Leader X trusts Clan Leader Z.)

Kenya was the impartial mediator in Sudan. Not so in Somalia. In the Kismayo region Kenyans are heavily armed outsiders with a definite, self-serving political-security agenda. The KDF wants the people of the Kismayo region to treat Al Shabaab as their occupier and the KDF as their ally. That’s may seem like a long shot goal but day by day Al Shabaab is losing territory to the AU and TNG, and the southerners are aware of that.

The KDF has been training militiamen from Ras Kamboni (sometimes referred to as the Ras Kamboni fighters). Arming, training, and supplying these militiamen serve immediate security purposes. Paying them creates political goodwill. These militiamen could play a role in an attack on Kismayo. They could also play a role in politically stabilizing the city and the region. Arming, training, supplying, and paying Ras Kamboni fighters certainly demonstrates that good relations with Kenya has its rewards.

The KDF has shown that it is willing to use force to protect Kenya. It is also demonstrating that it is willing to use force to protect Kenya’s friends.

A TNG victory will be more durable (and Kenya’s military effort in Somalia more effective) if the southern clans are prepared to assume a positive security role in their region. The peace would be even more durable if the clans participate in Al Shabaab’s final defeat. The Ethiopians, however, may argue that the time to pursue nice-nice politics will come after Kismayo falls. (Austin Bay)

May 16, 2012: In Mombasa, Kenya attackers threw grenades outside a local nightclub. A security guard was killed and five people were wounded. One of the attackers was wounded and was captured. The attackers may belong to an al Qaeda-affiliated Islamist terror organization.

May 15, 2012: Ethiopian police charged ten people with belonging to al Qaeda. Nine of those charged were Ethiopian citizens. The other accused terrorist has Kenyan citizenship. Investigators claimed the ten people were planning to conduct terror attacks in Ethiopia and that the group had links to militant Islamist terror cells in Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Kenya, and the Philippines.

May 14, 2012: Al Shabaab fighters attacked a Kenyan position near Badade (Lower Jubba area, southern Somalia, near the Kenyan border). Six died in the resulting firefight.

An armed incident occurred in Beledweyne. An Ethiopian military vehicle hit a land mine inside the city. Several soldiers were wounded by the mine blast. Subsequent fire from the Ethiopian convoy killed two people in Beledweyne.

May 12, 2012: The Ethiopian commander of the United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA) confirmed the South Sudan had pulled all of its forces out of the region. Abyei is claimed by both Sudan and South Sudan. Ethiopia has now deployed 3,716 soldiers with the United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA) on the Sudan-South Sudan border. Another 83 Ethiopian military observers are also serving with the force. UNISFA has an authorized maximum force of 4,200 military personnel.

May 10, 2012: Ethiopian troops and pro-Somali government forces killed 17 al Shabaab fighters. The Al Shabaab fighters had been operating road blocks in the Bakool region. The official statement did not specify where the Ethiopian-led attacks occurred, but an Al Shabaab spokesman said that its fighters had engaged Ethiopian forces near the town of Hudur.

May 7, 2012: The government of Ethiopia denied reports that Ethiopian tribesmen were fleeing into South Sudan. A recent UN report asserted that Anuak tribal civilians had fled fighting between Ethiopian security forces and Anuak rebels in Ethiopia’s Gambella region (western Ethiopia, bordering on South Sudan’s Jonglei state).

May 6, 2012: A senior Ethiopian opposition political leader said that Ethiopia must end tribal politics. The opposition leader said Ethiopia has only two tribes: the rich and the poor.

May 5, 2012: 300 Djiboutian peacekeepers have deployed near Beledweyne (central Somalia). The Djibouti contingent will secure an area north of the town. Ethiopian and pro-Somali government forces attack and clear an area of Al Shabaab fighters. African Union peacekeeping units then deploy into the liberated zone.

May 4, 2012: Ethiopia will be one of four African countries attending the G8 summit later this month. The Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Meles Zenawi, and the leaders of Ghana, Tanzania, and Benin will discuss food security issues with the G8 leaders.

May 3, 2012: Ethiopian security forces arrested ten Merille tribal militia fighters who are accused of murdering three Kenyan policemen. The men participated in a raid on a Kenyan police camp in April. The Merille people have been fighting with the Turkana people. Both tribes are pastoralists. The tribes have clashed over water rights. Both tribes conduct cattle raids (mass theft of cattle herds). The Kenyan and Ethiopian government are trying to end the violence. Kenya recently arrested two Kenyan men for smuggling weapons to the Turkana.

May 1, 2012: Ethiopia reported that its two main refugee camps for people fleeing Sudan’s Blue Nile state now house 29,494 refugees. The camps are located at Tongo and Sherkole.

April 30, 2012: Apparently Eritrea supplied ammo and guns to the South Sudan Democratic Movement (SSDM) rebel group in South Sudan. Ammunition taken from the SSDM by South Sudanese security forces allegedly came from the same lots as ammo Eritrea gave the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF). The ONLF opposes the Ethiopian government.