Kenya and the African Union are to combine their forces in the campaign against Al-Shabaab in a major strategic shift which could change the face of the Somalia war.
The operation will bring together African Union forces operating around Mogadishu, Kenya Defence Forces and Transitional Federal Government forces to fight the militant group throughout Somalia.
An agreement reached by Presidents Kibaki, Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni and Somalia’s Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed will see Ugandan and Burundi-led AU forces backed by soldiers from Kenya. (Read: Missiles strike rebels as more support Kenya)
Operations against the group will now be coordinated more closely between the two groups as more forces are expected from Djibuti, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Nigeria.
This would more than double the current number of AU troops operating in Somalia from 9,000 to 20,000.
Most of these will be deployed to areas where KDF and Amisom forces have defeated Al-Shabaab.
On the day marking exactly one month since Kenya sent its troops into Somalia to chase the militants accused of abductions in Kenya, Presidents Museveni and Shariff flew to Nairobi for a meeting with President Kibaki.
Al-Shabaab used the occasion to criticise Kenya’s military incursion and made an appeal to Kenyans to prevail upon the government to withdraw the forces.
Al-Shabaab spokesman Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage said in interviews that the Kenyan military was not advancing any further.
But the spokesman for the KDF, Maj Emmanuel Chirchir, dismissed the allegations, saying the operation was about to move to phase two which would also include an exit strategy.
He did not expound on the statement but Kenya’s military operation swiftly took towns and centres in the south of the country and they are now camped outside Afmadow, a town 105km inside Somalia and near Kismayu.
The Kenya Air Force and Navy are also operating unchallenged within Somali air space and waters.
A joint communique issued after the State House meeting said: “The meeting discussed the status of the joint Kenya-Somalia security operation in pursuit of Al-Shabaab insurgents and noted the gains already made by Amisom, TFG and KDF forces and the need to galvanise international support for this purpose.”
“In this regard, the meeting reaffirmed previous commitments to jointly pursue the objective of defeating Al-Shabaab and other militant groups to its logical conclusion,” the document, read by Foreign Affairs Minister Moses Wetang’ula, said.
Kenya also used the meeting to express its willingness to give troops to Amisom, which is currently helping TFG fighters kick militants our of Mogadishu.
Established by the AU Peace and Security Council in January 2007 as an active peace keeping mission with a mandate to support successive transitional governments in Somalia and implement a national security plan including the training of TFG forces, Amisom troops have over the last couple of months played an active role in pushing the Al-Shabaab out of Mogadishu.
The commitment to help Kenyan forces defeat Al-Shabaab signifies a change of heart on the part of the Somali president, who on October 24 faulted the Kenyan incursion into his country.
He had argued that Kenya’s military interventions in parts of his country were unnecessary.
President Sharif said both his government and the Somali people disapproved of Kenyan military deployment in parts of the country, adding that his country only welcomed Kenya’s support in terms of training and logistics.