Thursday, August 09, 2012
By William Wallis and Orla Ryan in London
A Kenyan army soldier with 'Tea in Kismayo' written on his helmet prepares for the forthcoming assault
African troops plan to launch an attack on a Somali Islamist base in the port of Kismayo next month in an attempt to hasten an end to the insurgency that has troubled the region for more than 20 years, says Raila Odinga, Kenya’s prime minister.
The offensive would have started this month, Mr Odinga said in an interview with the Financial Times. However, commanders of the the African Union peacekeeping force, which will be involved in the attack alongside Kenyan troops, delayed the plan for reasons that are unclear.
Kenya invaded Somalia last year after a series of kidnappings and killings, carried out by Somali al-Shabab militants, which threatened the lucrative tourism industry.
Simultaneous offensives by Ethiopian and AU forces have been successful in driving al-Shabab from Mogadishu and other parts of Somalia.
But the port of Kismayo remains under the militants’ control.
“Our troops are ready to move. It’s going to happen because unless we capture Kismayo we cannot say we have hurt al-Shabab. It’s their main supply base,” said Mr Odinga. “They are weakened already, but as usual, a besieged enemy is like a wounded buffalo. It is more dangerous.”
Kenya which borders Somalia, has absorbed up to a million refugees from its war-torn neighbour in a tide that Mr Odinga said had severe economic and security repercussions for east Africa’s biggest economy.
Last week, a grenade attack in Nairobi killed one person – the latest in a series of assaults blamed by the Kenyan authorities on Somali Islamist militants linked to al-Qaeda.
Mr Odinga is leading opinion polls in advance of presidential elections due next March, when his historic rival and coalition partner Mwai Kibaki stands down as president. Should Mr Odinga win, he said he would ensure that Kenya played a leading role in reinforcing regional stability and encouraging economic integration.
“We will work to bring this region together. There are a lot of common problems and common interests.”
In the past week, Sudan and South Sudan have agreed on a formula for sharing oil revenues, in the first breakthrough for months in resolving that long-running conflict.
Mr Odinga said the recent discovery of oil in a part of northern Kenya bordering South Sudan had reinforced the case for a pipeline transporting oil from South Sudan’s capital, Juba, to a putative port on the Kenyan coast at Lamu.