The real battle begins after Kismayu

Written By Michael Maunda on Monday, June 18, 2012 | 1:05 PM

The fall of Kismayu will deal the extremist group a major blow. A vital source of revenue that has underpinned its political prestige and influence and allowed it to mollify the clans and buy consent will be choked. 

More significant, the fall of the city may sow further dissension in its ranks and foment a fatal process of internal organisational disintegration and decomposition, impossible to reverse.
But one must not lose sight of the potential military pitfalls.

Owing to the city’s economic, political and symbolic significance, it is highly likely Al-Shabaab hard-liners may attempt to put up a stiff resistance, even though there have been reports clan elders have been busy piling the pressure on the movement to avoid a blood bath and to pull out.

Even if this pressure succeeds and the Kenyan forces and their Amisom allies take the city without any major combat, the struggle to secure Kismayu and maintain control could prove long, arduous and complicated. 

Remnants of Al-Shabaab will continue to wage a low-intensity guerrilla campaign and operate discreetly in some pockets of the vast city. 

As has happened elsewhere, the takeover of the city will see a corresponding rise in insurgent suicide and Improvised Explosive Device (IED) attacks as well as targeted assassinations.

To be clear, the overarching strategic objective of the counter-insurgency mission is broader than the defeat of Al-Shabaab militarily and the liberation of the city, important though that is. 

The greater overriding imperative must be to win over the trust of the public and create the context for wider stabilisation — a gradual restoration of peace, law and order and the creation of a credible and legitimate political dispensation at the local and national level.

This may all smack of “nation-building”, something which most armies on combat duties abroad are instinctively averse to. 

It raises the spectre of mission creep and remains a constant source of tension between commanders on the ground and policy makers.

Non-combat tasks
This reluctance is understandable and for obvious reasons. Armies are not well-trained or equipped for non-combat tasks and in a situation where the available resources are inadequate, it is unfair to expect them to be enthusiastic about performing the role, much less to discharge it with competence.

A good grasp of the prevailing ground truths and the wider context and dynamics is however necessary and critical.

1. Preventing insecurity: Much of the public support for Al-Shabaab in southern Somalia historically rested on the group’s tight administrative and functional control; a tough approach on crime and the swift and brutal sharia regime it imposed. 

For many communities blighted by decades of lawlessness and violence this was the Faustian pact they had to enter into — in the process giving up their liberty in exchange for the semblance of order and relative peace offered under Al-Shabaab’s totalitarian rule. 

For a variety of reasons, not least the Transitional Federal Government’s endemic dysfunction and institutional weakness, many of the emerging liberated areas are experiencing a security vacuum. 

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