Kenyan forces are believed to be already engaging with Al-Shabaab elements inside Somalia, signalling a clear determination by the country to defend itself from incessant attacks by insurgents.
On Saturday, the Government — through two ministers —made it clear it was exercising its right to self-defence against continued aggression that risks undermining the country’s economic and security interests.
Kenya invoked this right – provided for under Article 51 of the United Nations Charter – in the face of flagrant violation of its territorial integrity and national economy by Al-Shabaab terror group.
Kenya military personnel during a border patrol. Kenya should be more aggressive in securing borders to tame Al shabaab attacks. Picture: File/Standard
The formal announcement signals the country’s determination to pursue legitimate Al-Shabaab targets and groups anywhere, including inside Somalia, which has not had a functioning Government since dictator Siad Barre was deposed in 1991 – with the intention to respond and prevent future attacks.
At a press conference in Nairobi, Defence Minister Yusuf Haji and his Internal Security counterpart George Saitoti also announced the immediate closure of the border with the anarchic country, and the Government’s intention to screen all refugees in the country to weed out sleeper elements and sympathisers.
It listed seven major incidents of "provocations" by Al-Shabaab, including the brazen attacks on Dadajabula Police Post in 2009, raid on Liboi General Service Unit Camp last year, and the laying of mines and improvised explosive devices against Kenya police and military in Mandera last July.
Others are the numerous kidnappings and hijackings within Kenya’s borders, including two Catholic nuns in Elwak in 2009, two military soldiers last July, and the recent seizure of British, French and Spanish nationals in Lamu and Dadaab.
Last month, there were several Al-Shabaab attacks along the Kenya-Somalia border, besides the continued recruitment of Kenyan youth to the terror group’s ranks.
The UN Charter Article 51 that Kenya invoked yesterday allows a country to defend itself from external aggression, as well as to prevent attacks.
The international law is the same one that the United States resorted to in the killing of al-Qaeda head Osama bin Laden. The US responded firmly against Afghanistan after it established that the perpetrators of the September 11, 2001, attacks were all members of the al Qaeda terrorist organisation, known to operate in Afghanistan.
Israel also cited the international law governing self-defence to justify its attack on Gaza in 2009.
Kenya’s new Constitution, which Saitoti and Haji referred to yesterday, states that the Defence Forces are responsible for the defence and protection of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Republic.
The two ministers said Kenya would use the military and other security forces to deal with "provocations" by Al-Shabaab, and other militants.
They said the Government believed the Al-Qaeda linked Al-Shabaab movement and its affiliates were behind the incidents on Kenyan soil, including the kidnapping of two Medecins Sans Frontiers aid workers from Dadaab on Thursday.
"We are now going to pursue the enemy, who are the Al-Shabaab, to wherever they would be, even in their country," said a tough-talking Saitoti.
Military and police officers are pursuing the gunmen holding the Spanish aid workers.
Al-Shabaab controls large swathes of southern and central Somalia, including areas close to the border with Kenya.
The Kenya Army in recent months has been involved in fending off Al-Shabaab at the border with clashes in Elwak and Dhobley.
Yesterday, Haji said: "We are going to hunt them down in Somalia. Our country is under attack and the measures we have decided to take are aimed at protecting and preserving the integrity of the country, national economy, and security."
The latest abduction of Westerners on Kenyan soil by attackers linked to Al-Shabaab is the third in a month.
Aid workers have been targets of abductions by Somalia gunmen for ransom payouts, but attacks in Kenya have been relatively rare.
The launch of US drone attacks in June and aggressive military assaults by African Union Mission in Somalia troops drove the Al-Shabaab out of Mogadishu. This is thought to have prompted the rebels to resort to desperate measures, including suicide bombings in the war-scarred Somalia capital and lately clashes with Kenyan forces at border.
Haji confirmed that the military pursuing the kidnappers had come across the Spanish aid workers’ vehicle abandoned between Dadaab and the Somalia frontier.
"This means the gunmen and their victims are now on foot. The military will catch up with them," he said. But Haji cautioned aid workers against venturing outside of the camp without police security.
"They have been reluctant to enhance security in the camp, and when they go out they do not seek security saying they are restricted from carrying security personnel in their vehicles," said the minister.
Saitoti said the Government would carry out further screening of refugees at the Dadaab camp.
"We will embark on thorough screening of those in the camps to weed out Al-Shabaab sympathisers," he said.
Kenyan authorities have on several occasions expressed fears that Islamist extremists would infiltrate the world’s largest refugee camp, as the border is about 100km away.
He appealed to the international community to work on securing Somalia so that the refugees could be assisted to return home.
The Government statement comes at a time the United Nations has temporarily suspended all non-lifesaving aid operations in Dadaab.
Hundreds of aid workers have reportedly been confined to their offices, forcing the cancellation of services like education, counselling, and the relocation of families.
Aid agency, Medecins Sans Frontiers, says it is also pulling its entire foreign staff from the world’s largest refugee camp.