Thursday, December 1, 2011



By Jerry Okungu
Nairobi, Kenya
November 30, 2011

War, any war is never easy. It is painful and destructive. More often than not there are casualties on both sides. However, the number of casualties and the news of which side is winning the war will depend on who has the most sophisticated propaganda machine.

From the First World War when nations started to employ technology as part of their military arsenal, nearly fifty percent of the war has been psychological. And there is always a third party that each combatant craves for attention. The third party comprises of the media, the public back home who probably finances the war through increased taxes or other publics outside warring parties that may sympathize with either warring nation and lend material, financial and military support.

Since the Gulf War in 1990, we have seen another development. In the American case, they enlisted the support of the CNN in their invasion of Iraq. CNN reporters became an integral part of the American army wearing military uniforms, bullet proof vests and hardware helmets. The difference between them and their marines was that they shot the enemy using cameras and their mouths. These were the embedded journalists of the Gulf War. We had to see the same scenario when the same Americans invaded Iraq and Afghanistan ten years later.

When you have friendly media being part of a fighting force, one thing will surely be the main casualty. It will be the truth. More often than not, the friendly media will be exaggerating casualties on the other side and striving to tell the world that their side is winning the war.

The same failure to tell the truth went on for years in America’s Vietnam War until the Americans back home could not reconcile the news they were hearing with the number of body bags that were being shipped home from the war front. And it reached a point when ordinary Americans started questioning the wisdom of taking their sons and daughters to fight a war in faraway lands that paused no immediate threats to their well beings at home.
The point these demonstrators missed was that American soldiers were in Vietnam for an ideological war- fighting the spread of communism worldwide. It had nothing to do with the threat to a possible immediate invasion of the United States borders.

Since the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan in early 2003, about 5000 American soldiers have died in those wars. This is despite the fact that even though American soldiers out number Afghanistan and Iraqi troops many times over and despite the fact that most fighting is carried out by stealth and drone bombers, a number of them unmanned, we still see American soldiers bleeding and dying on the war front.

At the beginning of these wars, international media were awash with news coming from the war front. Even in East Africa, our news networks had a story each on our front pages and prime time television news casts every night. What we didn’t get were the actual figures of casualties on both sides. Civilian deaths commonly referred to as collateral damage were never accurately reported by networks on the front line. And our local media that were not represented and depended on frontline networks perpetuated the same propaganda.

As the Americans invaded Iraq and Afghanistan in pursuit of Weapons of Mass Destruction and Osama bin Laden respectively so have our armies entered Somalia soil in pursuit of Al Shabaab terrorists that not only have made it impossible for the Transitional Federal Government of  war torn Somalia to operate but have frequently invaded Kenyan territory abducting and killing civilians at will. The same terrorists have made Kenyan coastline and territorial waters unsafe for international traffic. It was a situation that could not be allowed to go on forever. Something had to be done.

The difference between Kenyan soldiers entering Somalia and Americans invading Afghanistan is that in Somalia, the AU military personnel comprising of Ugandan and Burundian soldiers were already there as a peace keeping force but more often than not were forced by the Al Shabaab to fight for their lives.

However, as in any war situation involving faceless hit-and- run militias like the Al Shabaabs, Kenyans back home must be prepared psychologically to receive more body bags from the frontline before it is all over.
So far, about 10 Kenyan soldiers have lost their lives since the war started six weeks ago according to official figures. What we are not hearing are the accurate figures of how many Al Shabaab terrorists have been killed or captured. More importantly, we are not being told how many civilians have been caught in cross fire. I guess in a war situation, the truth may be more harmful to the fighting army than the enemy in front.

However, as the Al Shabaabs adopt new tactics of camouflage, wearing women’s clothes and shedding their military uniforms, it will increasingly become more difficult to know who is a terrorist and an ordinary Somali in Somalia. The Kenyan military will be forced to adopt screening tactics of all Somalis they come across. That is where the danger will lie waiting for them. Booby traps, landmines, planted bombs on specific routes will be a real possibility. This real threat calls for creative ways for the Kenyan military to fight Al Shabaab and win the war in the shortest time possible.

Prolonging this war beyond one year will be to the detriment of our forces. The war will be stale and forgotten just like the American war in Afghanistan or the LRA war in Northern Uganda. When people get used to violence, it stops being news.