Kenyan Intervention in Somalia Will Have Minimal Effect on Piracy

Kenya has entered into Somali-territory and is making slow progress northward. As yet, it is not entirely clear what military objective Kenya seeks to obtain. At its outset, the Kenyan government justified the incursion based upon recent kidnappings of foreign tourists and aid-workers, asserting that they were all the work of al-Shabaab. However, It appears that only the latter attack on Spanish aid workers for the charity MSF can be attributed to al-Shabaab. While the other two attacks on tourists near Lamu were likely the work of pirates/armed bandits. More recently, sources in the Kenyan military have asserted:

Kenya’s military says it plans to remain in Somalia until the Shabab’s capacity is “reduced” and Somalia’s weak, American-backed transitional government is able to function.

The more immediate goal appears to be to take the port town of Kismayu, one of Somalia’s biggest towns and a major money-earner for the Shabab. The United States and France have joined in this fight, emboldened by the success of using air power to assist foreign ground troops in Libya. The Kenyan incursion into Somalia falls within the U.S.’s fight against the Shabaab which until now was limited to targeted drone strikes in the Shabaab controlled areas.

Although principally a military intervention against the Shabaab, this is also an opportunity for Kenya to root-out pirates based in the south of Somalia and to discourage any further attacks on tourist-areas on its coast. While the Shabaab was initially hostile to pirates, asserting piracy was contrary to Islam, it appears Shabaab has become more tolerant of pirate gangs in view of the revenue they can produce. They are not working together, but appear to have reached a détente.

It is possible that Kenya’s intervention will prevent further pirate attacks in its coastal tourist areas. However, the vast majority of pirate attacks at sea originate in the breakaway region of Puntland, far to the north of the Shabaab controlled areas. Therefore, Kenya’s incursion into Somalia, while perhaps limiting attacks on tourists in Lamu, will not have any meaningful impact on attacks in international waters which have so affected commercial shipping.

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