Policy WATCH:
A Hostage Too Far
U.S. Now Openly Discusses Entering The War In Somalia, But Not On The Ground
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It was a casual interview with the Financial Times, but Ambassador Scott Gration told Katrina Manson that, “We are talking with the Kenyans right now to figure out where they need help.”

The casual mention won't get much pickup, but it comes less than a week after Qaddafi was killed by US- and European-backed rebels in Libya and the announcement that all US troops in Iraq were coming home by Christmas. "Operation Linda Nchi" or "Protect the Nation" is just the new style of American involvement in hostile regions; a stand-off war using proxies with everyone pointing to the next person if they ask who is in charge. What is clear is this operation has been a long time in planning, and coordinated with US and French military units to cut off the land and sea supply routes to al-Shabaab.

His comment is a little too off-the-cuff considering the significant sense of US payback for the 1998 al-Qaeda embassy bombings, but most of that energy has been focused hunting the original al-Qaeda members who planned and executed the dual attacks. Although the embassy is much better situated and protected, expats who live, work and travel in Kenya are not. So in truth the US has been doing all it can to support every Kenyan effort to defeat al-Qaeda and its weaker-minded twin al-Shabaab and bring an end to lawlessness across the border.

What America seems to be doing is harnessing the universal revulsion of the attacks on a) an elderly female tourist, b) female aid workers and c) a handicapped elderly ill French female expat to push the long-awaited Kenyan military button. All that was missing was an orphan and a dead puppy to ping the global outrage meter further. But there is no intention of a US "boots on the ground" intervention. Even though those boots were purchased with US money and the troops wearing them part of a robust US training and support program.

Somalia Report can offer a number of arguments for and against intervention. These recent kidnappings were indicative of an earlier plan hatched by al-Qaeda to deliberately destroy Kenya's tourism industry and provoke a response. Al-Qaeda would like nothing better than to tie down Kenyan, Ethiopian and other foreign troops based on the fiction that jihadis defeated the Russians in 80's Afghanistan by luring them to their deaths. Billions in American and Saudi support to extreme Pakistan-based terrorists forced the Russians out. Just as the Pentagon still uses Black Hawk Down as a cautionary tale, Somalia as the graveyard of outside forces remains a jihadi meme.

The three ugly kidnap and/or murder incidents have highlighted that war affects the weakest members of the targeted and even without the stab in the heart of Kenya's tourist industry, it was clearly time for a responsible adult somewhere to do something. British, French and American interests should be the most likely to deal the punishing blow but that was shifted to the Kenyan military.

Now a word of caution: it is quite proven that the rash of kidnaps were specifically designed by al-Qaeda to pull the US into Somalia, a classic muj trick from Afghanistan to pull hot-headed countries deeper and closer into a country where al-Qaeda have long bragged of staging their first victory ever since Bin Laden declared it so. There is equal evidence to show that cash-strapped pirates had put out orders for foreigners looking to make some quick ransom money and that there was no grand scheme. Al-Shabaab has repeatedly denied they are involved but they are about to get the full brunt of military response.

Whither Al Qaeda?

Even if it was al-Qaeda looking to stir things up, the shibboleth of al-Qaeda may be just an illusion and despite well-publicized failures, it is well past time that western nations should have dealt with the world's worst place regardless of the boogey men they fear that may lie within.

The final argument is that Somali is inherently impossible to help and that Band Aid solutions assuage global outrage without getting well-intentioned western nations further embroiled. But that does hinder neighboring countries from controlling their borders. The US would be more than happy to help Kenya remove decades old threat of violence from its border.

Either, way it is clear that the US has paid, trained and supplied Somalia's neighboring countries to stick their hand in the fire first.

The ambassador was not lying, but then he wasn't telling the whole truth. There has been a very nice, well-funded special operations and US military support base in Manda Bay that has yet to unleash it's full sting. Kenya has worked with the U.S. ever since the embassy bombings and that would also include Uganda who definitely has a reason to shut down al Shabaab.

French and American special operations troops wait eagerly for the call to action in Camp Lemonnier and the multinational naval ships offshore are constantly waiting to use those massive naval guns. But the decision was to go with the Kenyans as proxies, support them with air and naval assets and let them take it on the chin if they fail.

What is not clear is what happens next. Somalia Report predicts that as Kenya pushes deeper into al-Shabaab country, we will see some well-known al-Shabaab leaders suddenly vaporize, pushing command down into the dimmer, less-experienced and more radical members of "the Boys". Al-Qaeda has written Somalia off and has moved its focus to Yemen, where they have more popular support, Americans to shoot at and can get money from Saudi or Gulf donors easier. A few foreign fighters have popped up in Somalia, but they are more like PR poodles on the arms of better-experienced al-Shabaab commanders.

Al-Shabaab's press conferences aside, their diminishing funding, lack of escape routes and merciless removal by constant aerial attack is going to make a difference. Somalia Report found surprising support for the elimination of al-Shabaab by drone in our previous investigation at the beginning of the drone program in Somalia. It is really up to how the foreign troops treat locals, apply violence and how quickly they leave local governance and security to locals. None of this indicates any overt US ground presence.

Somalia is just as corrosive on Wahhabists as Crusaders

Will this unite ordinary Somalis to rise up against multiple foreign intervention as in their reaction to Ethiopia's army's appearance in Mogadishu five years ago? No. But there is no predicting how deft and dishonest the TFG will be in taking credit for these outside-sponsored military successes and turning them into disasters. There is no proof that Somalis will accept the TFG as anything other than a cobbled-together traveling circus that is completely disconnected from the task of local governance.

Conversely, al-Shabaab has done little to endear itself to the locals other than to provide swift justice followed by a sharp dig into local pockets for funding. None of the foreign expeditions into Somalia will solve Somalia's problems, but they may generate enough stability to encourage a donor state to engage. Right now that looks to be America with a handful of "willing" partners. Despite Arab Spring putting a spring in State Department's step, times are tight. Somalia's direct neighbors are already complaining about the cost, and richer neighbors like Saudia Arabia, UAE and other islamic states are not really thrilled about coming down hard on Islamic rebels in public.

The published comment by the US ambassador to Kenya is a tiny windows into the US government's new view on expeditionary and punitive warfare in the region. Much of it comes from President Obama's clear view of the political damage created by every dead American, some of it comes from David Petraeus' mastery of warfare by surveillance and assassination, some of it comes from the financial realities of just how much it costs to keep troops on the other side of the war and much of it comes from a US willingness to remove rogue nations from the global matrix. The colonial or police state concept of putting US soldiers on the ground is now a dead paradigm. More combat troops generate more combat. This reality was missed by General's McKiernan and McChrystal who both wanted troop increases in Afghanistan and both of whom were fired shortly after asking.

More evidence that you won't see US troops in Somalia unless you look up, out to sea or at the training barracks in Kenya and other countries.

Learning From History Or Repeating It?

Recent history has shown that a ground war in Somalia (or Iraq or Afghanistan for that matter) is a no-win political situation for America, either in political status or humanitarian kudos. But the ten-year program of covert training, funding and assassination in Horn of Africa has proven to provide major benefits without any real push back. Consider the murder of Anwar al-Awlaki, his son and Samir Khan in Yemen. Al Awlaki was not an armed combatant, Samir was for all intents and purposes a journalist and writer and al Awlaki's 16-year-old son Abdulrahman did was be in the wrong place at the wrong time. All of the above were American citizens, none have been convicted of any crime and all were coldly and methodically murdered (along with yet to be determined "collateral damage") by a system that has to create any outrage or public discussion or offer any insight into exactly who is on the kill list.

This system of remote control death without judge and jury is terror at its finest and it has worked against al-Shabaab. Scattering their leaders, forcing them to change their movements and creating a Stalinist sense of acceptance of being shaheed or martyred for the cause. There has been no significant outrage nor has it appeared that the US President has lost any major political points by killing US citizens overseas.

Now the land war war has been opened up with Kenyan troops doing a rapid movement towards the critical port of Kismayo. The Kenyan military is now offering embeds, ideally away from US trainers and "tip of the spear" special operations troops. Something we saw in Libya and have ongoing in Yemen. But once again the murder of three American civilians has had little to no impact on Somalis view of America's support of Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda against al-Shabaab.

AMISOM Emergent

The US has been an unrepentant backer of AMISOM. Although it is ostensibly a UN-sponsored, African enterprise, the US is paying for the equipment, ammunition and training. Charities like Bancroft Global hire former mercenaries and military advisors to do forward training, not much different than the days of Executive Outcomes and Special Forces advisors in Laos and Cambodia. Bancroft's trainers are not armed, but they advise in close combat on how to gather intelligence, aim guns, breech walls, fire weapons, urban warfare, demining/IEDs and take credit for whipping a ragged bush army into an urban assault group. Their money comes from the United States via their charity.

The CIA is training "anti terrorism" and intelligence gathering forces in Bosasso, Hargeisa and Mogadishu. Using direct-hire contractors to avoid the Blackwater controversy, Americans train well-equipped local militias. But other than keeping the ports running, much of the US horsepower is kept off the dirt of Somalia in the air and the sea.

Ethiopian troops are in Luq, Beledhawa, Beledweyne and Garbaharey districts of Gedo, as well as in Yed district of Bakol region and the Kalabeyr village of Hiraan. The ASWJ, an Ethiopian-trained and -supported proxy, has stalled. AMISOM troops have stretched their supply and security limits but they are slowly clearing Mogadishu. Their mandate may be expanded along with troop strength but the sight of blown up, mutilated or shot Ugandans and Burundians will become a common propaganda image for al-Shabaab over the next few months. Kenyan troops will face their first hard fight as they enter Afmadow and engage al-Shabaab troops in street-to street-fighting. Al-Shabaab is using nearby Bula Haji to pour in reinforcements for what will be a critical battle that may start in Somalia but will most likely be fought inside Kenya.

Enter the Game Changer

What was needed was the much overused "gamechanger" .That turned out to be an oft-planned but never executed "panzer" strike into the heart of al Shabaabs wallet Kismayo. Al-Shabaab has alreadly lost the income from Bakara market and now subsists on extortion, taxes and thuggery. When their main al-Qaeda paymaster Fazul Abdullah Muhammad was killed at a roadblock ,it set off a chain reaction that has led to the situation we see today.

As a well deserved bitch slap and smart strategic move, Ras Kamboni was sealed off by Kenyan troops, removing the traditional "get out of Dodge" exit point. That means al-Shabaab has nowhere to go. The difference between January 2007 and October 2011 is that the US has significant assets in Northern Kenya, Djibouti and offshore. The air strikes, drone strikes and on-the-ground intelligence gathering is creating a vicious inward cycle of attrition for al-Shabaab. French and American naval and air forces are enjoying a free fire zone with ground- and air-based observers making sure the civilian casualties are kept low.

There will be no short-term overt US troop presence as in the hunt for Joseph Kony, a similar supply and training program that actually began in 2007 has just now expanded into a US advisor program, but the US public seems to be fine with sailors on ships being offshore, pilots in aircraft above and covert operators advising on the ground. Right now there is also an active air campaign to support the Kenyans. Those air strikes are being called in by American and foreign advisors just as they were in Libya.

For now, the allied African forces are on the move and al-Shabaab is in retreat. The usual warning about it being easier to invade than get out is still historically accurate.

Stay tuned to Somalia Report over the next few weeks as we cover the ground fighting. As I write this, US and allied forces air strikes are decimating al-Shabaab's technicals and convoys while Sheikh Hassan Ya’gub Ali, chairman of al-Shabaab in Kismayo is urging angry residents to calm down. He denied any loses of their fighters.

The lesson is that he did not exhort locals to grab their weapons and attack the Kenya troops or the invisible aircraft.

“We have to be ready to respond the aggression of Kenya against or land and sea. Its tall buildings in Nairobi, Kenya should be targeted and destroyed in the near future by our Mujahideen forces,” he said.