By Jerry Okungu
October 3 2012
Finally the Al Shabaab terrorist group was forced to flee Kismayu their stronghold after heavy bombardment by the combined forces of Kenya Defense Forces, the African Union allied forces and the Somali national military.
Early reports indicated that after suffering heavy casualties, a good chunk of the terrorist militia surrendered to the allied forces as the rest fled into the forests north of Kismayu.
After one year of intense campaigns by Kenya’s defence forces, their dream of the ultimate prize – that of capturing the terrorists’ life line was realized.
Whereas celebrations are in order for this blow to the terrorists that have continued to cause havoc in East Africa- more so in Kenya, Uganda and inside Somalia, there is need for caution by the governments of the region and the military commanders operating inside Somalia.
Fighting ragtag militias is never an easy task. They have a way of mutating depending on circumstances and reemerging under other names from time to time while their murderous and destructive missions remain the same.
History is awash with examples where well armed regular armies have expereienced long periods of resistance from seemingly weaker outfits.
The Sudan mighty army with its airpower bombed South Sudan for two decades without achieving a military victory. It was dialogue and reason that finally succeeded when John Garang of the SPLA and Omar El Bashir of the Sudan government signed a Peace Accord in Nairobi in 2005.
The Al Shabaab fleeing Kismayu and disappearing into the forests of Somalia reminded me of Joseph Kony of the Lords Resistance Army that had engaged Ugandan forces for decades in Northern Uganda. Though their forces dwindled as the war dragged on, it was clear that that there was no outright victory for the Ugandan Armed Forces that ideally should have ended in capturing renegade Kony and his top commanders.
It was after Museveni realized that military might alone would not bring Kony to his knees that he chose a few years ago to use the South Sudan leaders to negotiate peace with Kony. However, because at that time Kony had been indicted for crimes against humanity, the amnesty offered by the Kampala regime did not look atttractive. It was the reason the peace accord failed. It is the reason Kony is still roaming the wilds of neighboring forests uncaptured and unpunished.
Military might alone has never won an outright victory against faceless militias that thrive on surprise attacks, terrorist bombings and suicide attacks. In more ways than one, terrorists thrive on inflicting casualties on unarmed civilians to cause discomfort to the governments they fight. The publicity that accompanies such bloody attacks are what the so called defenders of their faith cherish.
In the early 1990s when the seeds of Somali disintegration were planted following the ouster of President Siad Barre, the American marines were humiliated by the Somali ragtag militias. With the downing of American military choppers inside Mogadishu, the marines took off leaving starving Somalis to their own fate.
Soon after the terrorist bombing of the twin towers in New York , now known as the 9/11 in 2001, America declared war on Osama Bin Laden together with nations that were considered bastions of terrorist organizations. Such nations were identified as Iraq and Afghanistan.
Under normal circumstances, one would have expected that American forces against Iraq and Afghanistan would take just days or at most weeks to conclude. However, a decade later, the mighty U.S Army is still in the trenches fighting the Talibans and Al Qeida forces both inside Baghdad and Kabul. The American aerial fire power accompanied by sophisticated technoligical warfare failed to yield quick results.
In fact the American experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan follow a clear historical pattern when it comes to dealing with informal fighters. The wars in Vietnam, Cambodia and the USSR experience in Afghanistan in the early 1980s are just but a few examples.
In Somalia, there are signs that this pattern will be followed to the letter. Already there are signs that a good number of diehard jihads have melted into the general population. And since they have no uniforms or distinct signs to be identified with, they will obviously pass for ordinary Somalis in the streets of Mogadishu, Kismayu and any other towns they have been dislodged from. More importantly, their connections with more established terrorist groups like the Al QEIDA cannot be underrated, after all the Al Qeida have been the Al Shabaab’s main financiers and trainers.
It is this reality that the African Union, governments in the East African region and especially Kenya must confront, budget for and get ready for. Our forces must be psychologically and materially prepared for the long haul, a war that should last between 10 and 15 years to give room for young Somalis to be weaned out of the war mentality. The Somali generation that was born and grew up in a culrure of violence must be rehabilitated and reorientated to lead normal lives away from piracy and other criminal activities.
The international community must support the young Somali government to reconcile the Somali nation. This support must come in tangible forms. Schools must be rebuilt,infrastructure repaired, hospitals built and food production and commercial activity must resume in order to stabilize Somalia. If Somaliland has done it for the last 20 years, surely Somalia can do it too.