Somalia’s Islamist rebels have resorted to setting explosives and moving in small groups in a change of strategy against Kenyan forces battling them since last month, Nairobi officials said Saturday.
Nearly one month after Kenya deployed forces into the Shebab-controlled southern Somalia, Nairobi has also been rallying regional and international backing for the operation and moved to bolster security at home.
“Initially when this operation began, Al Shebab was concentrating in large groups, but in the last two to three weeks we have seen them changing from large groups to small groups of between two and five,” military information and operations officer Colonel Cyrus Oguna told reporters in Nairobi.
“We have also seen them moving away from using major weapons. They are getting into using small weapons like IEDs (improvised explosive devices) and landmines,” he added.
Last month, one person was killed and several wounded in two grenade blasts that rocked Nairobi, and which the police blamed on the Shebab.
At least six people have also died in grenade attacks and ambushes in regions near the porous Kenya-Somalia border in recent weeks. The attacks have also been blamed on the Al-Qaeda-inspired Somali rebels.
Kenya launched the offensive on October 14 following a series of kidnappings of foreigners and incursions into its terroritory by Shebab elements, but the insurgents denied being behind the spate of abductions.
The operation broke Kenya’s long-standing non-military approach to the two decades of civil war in Somalia. The abduction and killing of holidaymakers on Kenya’s coastal areas threatened its key tourism industry.
Kenya police spokesman Erick Kiraithe said security has been tightened and that since the cross-border operation started, some 30 people he said were local Shebab sympathisers have renounced the group to cooperate with police.
“The home front is the most sensitive … and therefore internally the surveillance we have put in place has been able to neutralise a lot of their activities,” Kirathe told reporters.
“We are dealing with an exceedingly primitive criminal, one who knows no bounds.”
Kenya is the latest country to deploy forces to Somalia to dismantle Islamist fighters. Ethiopia sent troops in 2006 and defeated an Islamist movement, but whose hardline fighters later regrouped to form the Shebab.
A senior Kenyan foreign affairs official said Nairobi had secured the support of regional states and was seeking UN backing to boost the numbers of African Union (AMISOM) troops backing the weak Somali government in Mogadishu.
“We have been able to secure regional support. We have the support of all IGAD member states,” said Lindsay Kiptiness, referring to the six-member East Africa bloc, the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development.
“We are working on strategies to ensure that we have the support of the Arab League as well as other Muslim nations that have been working with the TFG (Somali government) before like Turkey and Iran,” he added.
“We are also seeking support from the United Nations Security Council on the possibility of enhancing the operation of AMISOM to cover the entire Somalia, not only Mogadishu.”
Kiptiness also called on Eritrea, which Nairobi blames for supporting the Shebab, to denounce the insurgents. Asmara has denied it is backing the rebels.
“Although the state of Eritrea has denied giving support to Al Shebab … It may not be sufficient for the state of Eritrea just to deny these allegations, it is important that they go a step further and even denounce the activities of Al Shebab,” he said.
Published: November 12, 2011