Kenya's Involvement in Somalia

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman, this is The World. Kenya's military intervention in neighboring Somalia continues. The Kenyans are fighting the Islamist militant group, Al-Shabaab. The group controls parts of Somalia and Kenya blames Al-Shabaab for a string of attacks on Kenyan soil. The Kenyan operation has been controversial. Today, the Red Cross resumed aid delivery to drought victims in Somalia. Delivery had been halted yesterday after a report that civilians had been killed by a Kenyan air strike. Meanwhile, Somali Prime Minister Mohamed Abdiweli is voicing support for Kenya's intervention. He says it could even help get food aid into Al-Shabaab controlled territory.

Mohamed Abdiweli: The best way to mitigate the effect of the drought is to defeat Al-Shabaab, that's for sure because it's not difficult to provide relief aid to the people in Mogadishu. So why it's so difficult to provide relief aid to Al-Shabaab areas? So the best strategy is to get rid of Al-Shabaab.

Werman: That was Somalia's Prime Minister speaking during a visit to Kenya. The BBC's Will Ross interviewed him there. Ross says Kenya's military operation is a very tricky subject for Somali officials.

Will Ross: According to the Somali government, the Somali soldiers are taking the lead in the military operation and the Kenyans are backing them up. Now, many analysts may find that a big hard to believe, but it's a very, very sensitive issue. And over the last two weeks we've had very mixed signals from the government in Mogadishu, and at one point the President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed said we welcome Kenyan support and training, but we don't want any Kenyan soldiers in Somalia. So that obviously, was very awkward for the Kenyans and I think this trip by the Prime Minister was meant to sort of patch it up and to say look, we have a common enemy, we're gonna work together against Al-Shabaab, but he kept saying this point -- the Somalis are leading in the operation.

Werman: Kenya has an interest in getting the Shabaab problem resolved in neighboring Somalia. Doesn't Prime Minister Mohamed also see this clear interest in getting neighbors to help him clamp down on Shabaab?

Ross: Yes, but I think the issue for the government in Mogadishu is that we have to remember it's already been propped up by Ugandan and Burundian peacekeepers. And the issue of the presence of foreign soldiers on Somali soil is very sensitive. Just a few years ago the Ethiopians were there tackling a different Islamist group that was in charge at the time. When they left in January 2009 there was mass jubilation in Somalia because they had become so unpopular. So this issue of foreign troops has to be dealt with very carefully. Yes, both countries do see Al-Shabaab as the enemy. For Kenya though there's a bit of controversy because Kenya says the reason they've gone over the border is because several kidnappings in recent weeks were carried out by Al-Shabaab. Now, there's absolutely no proof as far as we can tell that Al-Shabaab did carry out those kidnappings, so some people are saying hang on, aren't the Kenyans using this kidnapping issue as an excuse to go over the border and try and pacify the area close to its border.

Werman: Right, and then a few days ago the plot thickens with the Kenyan planes allegedly striking an Al-Shabaab truck that was laden with explosives in a refugee camp in southern Somalia. Witnesses from Doctors Without Borders claim this, so did the Somalis. The Kenyans say that it's Shabaab propaganda. What's going on?

Ross: It's very difficult to know exactly what happened and one of the reasons for that is no journalists are really there in the thick of the action. And the whole Kenyan media has being spun the Kenyan military's version of events. But certainly most people would say you know, Medecins Sans Frontieres is an independent humanitarian organization that can be relied on. It was categorical. It said just after those bombs were dropped from planes they received dozens of people, more than 50 people, most of them women and children with injuries, and at least 5 people died. And so then the Kenyans turn around and said it wasn't us, but yes, we bombed that area. And this issue of civilian deaths is obviously a very, very sensitive one and unless the Kenyans are very careful it could find themselves hugely unpopular with the Somali population, and they could also give some sort of a boost to Al-Shabaab because Al-Shabaab could use that sort of nationalism and anti-foreign troops to their advantage.

Werman: The BBC's Will Ross in Nairobi. Thanks so much Will.

Ross: Pleasure.