Monday, November 14, 2011

Loaded donkeys and tweeting majors: All seems to be well on the war front

"Any large concentration and movement of loaded donkeys will be considered as Al-Shabaab activity.”

It is not for nothing that @MajorEChirchir has become a ‘must-follow’ on Twitter for anyone keen on the latest despatches from the war-front.

However, the above twit from Major Emmanuel Chirchir, the Operation Linda Nchi spokesman, really caught my eye.

It seemed to encapsulate so much about the Kenyan military incursion in Somalia.

After generously using Twitter to alert Al-Shabaab of impending attacks, the Kenyan Defence Forces seemed to have turned attention to donkeys.

Enemy combatants, forewarned on social media, had already made themselves scarce.

Of course, a little background is in order to the above warning that donkeys would be bombed if they let Al-Shabaab makes asses of them.

Major Chirchir had started by revealing that Al-Shabaab were using donkeys to transport weapons in areas at the coast around the Kenya-Somali border.

This had created a demand for the beasts of burden, with the selling price shooting up from $150 to $200 per head.

Enterprising Kenyans, of course, were cashing in, and the military was constrained to warn that selling donkeys to Al-Shabaab would undermine the war effort.

I wondered what the bounty would be if I bought all the donkeys available on the cheap in Limuru and trucked them to Somalia.

But, of course, there was the chilling warning that any large movement of donkeys would be presumed an enemy arms transportation activity, and therefore legitimate military targets from land, sea and air.

I conjured up images of F5 fighter jets swooshing down with their deadly fire on donkey convoys, helicopter gunships coming in low with their mighty fire, and maybe paratroopers dropping down to finish off those that got away.

I was surprised there was not the slightest protest, not even a whimper, from Ms Jean Gilchrist and the folks at the KSPCA.

Perhaps the famous donkey sanctuary in Lamu, not too far from the front, braced itself for an influx of the war-wounded.

One month into Operation Linda Nchi, I am beginning to wonder whether it is the military making asses of us all.

What seemed like a blitzkrieg into Al-Shabaab territory seems to be taking place with no major battles, no resistance.

Al-Shabaab fighters have become follower of @MajorEChirchir on twitter and are dutifully heeding his warnings and fleeing before they are hit.

Available information is that most of the targeted area in southern Somalia is now in the hands of the Kenya Defence Forces and the Somali Transitional Federal Government allies after Al-Shabaab turned tail and fled.

However, it is curious that there is no information on the capture of 10 towns generously listed on Twitter that supposedly hosted major Al-Shabaab bases.

The other possibility, of course, is that the jihadists simply melted into the civilian population, waiting to hit back at the time and place of their choosing.

You see, Al-Shabaab is not a conventional army. It cannot be identified by barracks or troop concentrations and territory held.

It does not proudly put on displays of its regimental colours and flag.

Its strength is not in armour, jets and battleships, or in precise marching formations; but in stealth, guile and cunning.

Maybe it cheats by not observing the normal rules of war. But then it is not an army in the conventional sense, and anyone fighting such a group must adjust to battle on its terms.

So far, all we have is the word of the military that the enemy has fled and our soldiers have turned attention to humanitarian aid.

But that picture just doesn’t seem to gel with reality, knowing that key towns remain ‘unliberated’; and the likelihood that despite the aerial bombardments destroying their training camps, Al-Shabaab remains largely intact.

A curious element of this conflict is that there is hardly any source of information other than the military.

Major Chirchir and his tweets or the journalists embedded in the rear bases are all part of an effort to manage information.

That is the challenge for the media once it has done playing cheerleader.

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