Kenya’s navy has joined the Kenyan military offensive in Somalia with operations designed to end al-Shabaab or third-party resupply or arms, fuel and other material to al-Shabaab-held territories in southern Somalia, secure Kenyan waters from terrorist infiltrators and prepare conditions for a two-pronged land and sea assault on the al-Shabaab-held port of Kismayo. Kenyan forces crossed the border into southern Somalia on October 16 as part of Operation Linda Nchi.

The main objective of the Kenyan campaign is to seize the port of Kismayo, a vital source of revenues for al-Shabaab as well as a connection between the Islamist movement and the wider world. With al-Shabaab’s loss of the lucrative Mogadishu markets last August and a summer long drought that created massive out-migration from al-Shabaab-held regions of southern Somalia, the loss of Kismayo would represent a severe body-blow to the Somali militants. Kenyan military sources have indicated that the Kenyan navy will play an important part in the attack on Kismayo (Daily Nation [Nairobi], October 30). Kenyan jets have already started bombardment of the port region. Kenya’s navy possesses an amphibious assault vessel, though a risky amphibious assault on Kismayo would be ambitious for a nation still in the early days of its first extraterritorial operation.

Kenya’s small navy consists largely of a handful of small British-built missile boats, Spanish-built patrol boats and a number of American and Spanish-built inshore patrol vessels (IPVs). In recent years the Kenyan Navy has come under local criticism for failing to do enough to tackle the problems of piracy, narcotics smuggling and illegal fishing by foreign trawlers in Kenyan waters (Nairobi Chronicle, February 11, 2009). However, Kenya’s Navy has been hampered in carrying out deep-water operations by deficiencies in its fleet. The fleet’s two Spanish-built patrol boats (Shuja and Shupavu) have had unexpected range and sea-handling problems, while another ship designed for long-range patrols, the KNS Jasiri, has sat in a Spanish dock since its completion in 2005 due to an unresolved dispute between Kenya and the European contractor (Nairobi Chronicle, December 16, 2008; DefenceWeb, July 4).

Nonetheless, Kenya’s military intervention in Somalia has been greatly aided by the return of the missile boats Nyayo and Umoja from an over two-year refit in Italy. The two 1987 vintage ships had their Otomat missiles removed as part of the refit but were otherwise extensively modernized. Their return has given the Kenyan military greater confidence in their ability to control the southern Somali coastline during the ongoing operations.

On November 2, a Kenyan patrol boat in Somali waters sank a ship they claimed was transporting fuel and al-Shabaab fighters to Kuday in the Bajuni coral islands off the southern Somali coast. Military spokesmen claimed all 18 al-Shabaab militants aboard the ship were killed (Daily Nation [Nairobi], November 3; Capital FM [Nairobi], November 3; The Standard [Nairobi], November 4).  [1] The Bajuni coral islands of Kuday, Ndoa, Chuvaye, Koyama, Fuma Iyu na Tini and Nchoni were traditionally inhabited by the non-Somali Bajuni culture, speaking a dialect of Swahili. Somalis began forcing the Bajuni from the islands during the Siad Barre regime, a trend that actually worsened after the collapse of his government in 1991 as many Bajuni sought refuge in Kenya.

A second ship was sunk on November 4, when a Kenyan ship opened fire on a vessel coming from the region of Ras Kamboni in southern Somalia. According to Kenyan military spokesman Major Emmanuel Chirchir, “The boat was challenged to stop for identification but continued to approach the Kenya Navy at high speed, and consequently they fired on it” (Daily Nation [Nairobi], November 4).

Soon after the attack, however, Kenyan fishermen in the Magarini district claimed that the eight killed were local fishermen. According to the three survivors, the unarmed fishermen had identified themselves and surrendered before the Kenyan ship opened fire, though the commander of the Kenyan ship denies any such surrender took place. [2] A district commissioner later affirmed the identity of the survivors as local fishermen (Daily Nation [Nairobi], November 4). Kenyan officials say the government has issued clear instructions to fishermen that fishing off northern Kenya must be done in the daytime while fishing in Somali waters is prohibited (The Standard [Nairobi], November 4).

Kenya’s military has also warned merchant ships in the Indian Ocean against helping foreign fighters in Somalia to escape to Yemen. Kenya claims foreign fighters have gathered in Barawe and Marka to escape from the Kenyan offensive (Daily Nation [Nairobi], November 4).


1. For video see

2. See Nairobi TV interview, November 7, 2011:






A review of the strategy behind al-Shabaab’s August withdrawal from Mogadishu that recently appeared on jihadi websites has compared the pull-out with Russia’s scorched-earth withdrawal into the Russian interior during Napoleon’s invasion and the Taliban withdrawal into the mountains from Kabul in 2001 (, October 25).

In an article called “Mogadishu… the New Kabul!” author Abu Abdul Malik notes that prior to the withdrawal, al-Shabaab had seized 95% of Mogadishu, but the main facilities of the city, including its port, airport and presidential palace remained under the control of the Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and the Ugandan and Burundian troops of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).

High security and inaccessibility prevented al-Shabaab from taking control of the military bases of TFG and African Union troops. In this situation, “a nucleus of the enemy remained which would enable them to grow through the importation of new weapons and more soldiers and training Somali hirelings from abroad.”

Al-Shabaab’s failure to eliminate these bases led to the further intervention of “foreign advisors from France and America, as well as mercenary Blackwater forces.” The Somali militants concluded that “prolonging this course of action did not serve the interests of al-Shabaab in any way…”

Following the failure of al-Shabaab’s Ramadan offensive in Mogadishu, the perceived solution was to abandon the long urban warfare campaign and turn to guerrilla warfare in areas controlled by AMISOM by forgoing the occupation of the city. This move allowed al-Shabaab to once more resume the offensive initiative by allowing it to determine when and where it wished to engage the enemy and in what numbers. While AMISOM forces were concentrated in a square kilometer of Mogadishu they were almost unassailable; however, forcing the undermanned African Union mission to attempt to occupy the whole of Mogadishu drew the normally reticent AU troops from their bases and spread them out across a city rife with opportunities for ambush. The result has been at least one highly successful attack on patrolling AMISOM forces (see Terrorism Monitor, November 3). According to Abu Abdul Malik: “Mogadishu has become what Moscow became to Napoleon. Just let the enemy come out, he will fall in the great Mogadishu trap! … Let them become intoxicated as Napoleon was intoxicated by Moscow and as the Russians and Americans were by Kabul…”