Tag Archives: Kenya

International Force Will Deploy to South Sudan

Yesterday, East African heads of state announced their decision to deploy an international force to South Sudan starting April in an attempt to stem the conflict there. Troops will reportedly come from Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Rwanda, all of whom are frequent particpiants in other African peacekeeping operations. Djibouti, which also participates in peacekeeping operations on the continent, may also contribute forces to this new mission. Ugandan troops, who intervened on behalf of the South Sudanese government in January, have said they will withdraw after the new force is deployed.

A map showing internally displaced persons in South Sudan and refugees in neighboring countries, from the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs South Sudan Crisis Situation Report No. 26, dated 10 March 2014

A map showing internally displaced persons in South Sudan and refugees in neighboring countries, from the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs South Sudan Crisis Situation Report No. 26, dated 10 March 2014

The force will operate under a mandate from the the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), an East African economic bloc, which has been mediating talks in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa to try and bring an end to South Sudan’s crisis. The crisis erupted last December following a reported coup attempt. The government subsequently implicated a number of opposition political figures, most notably Riek Machar, as having been behind the attempted overthrow. Riek Machar announced a formal “resistance movement” in February and the country is effectively in a state of civil war.

The IGAD-sponsored talks did produce a ceasefire agreement in January, but this has been repeatedly violated. A second phase of talks to find a lasting political solution to the crisis has stalled. One of the main rebel demands is the release of individuals detained in connection with the coup. South Sudan is proceeding with their treason charges against eleven individuals, and a court has demanded that four individuals previously released and deported to Kenya return to face the indictments.

South Sudan has also accused the UN mission in the country, UNMISS, of collaborating with rebel forces. Last week, South Sudanese forces seized weapons and ammunition from a UN convoy, which UNMISS said had mistakenly been loaded in with humanitarian supplies. UNMISS also denied that landmines were among the munitions and has called on the South Sudanese government to respect their personnel and existing agreements. UNMISS is providing humanitarian assistance and shelter to hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons. The UN also estimates that millions in the country are in need of humanitarian assistance.

Somali, AU Troops Take Towns from Al Shabaab in Renewed Offensive

Somali government troops and peacekeepers from the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) have reportedly taken control of a number of towns from the militant group Al Shabaab. This includes the town of Burdhubo in the southern part of the country, which is described a a major stronghold of the Al Qaeda-linked group. These advances are part of a renewed AMISOM offensive against Al Shabaab, the planning for which had been alluded to last December.

Map released by AFRICOM in its 2013 posture statement showing governance in Somalia in 2012 and 2013.  Note that the green areas are simply listed as "pro-government," indicating that much of this territory is likely controlled by warlords and their militias.

Map released by AFRICOM in its 2013 posture statement showing governance in Somalia in 2012 and 2013. Note that the green areas are simply listed as “pro-government,” indicating that much of this territory is likely controlled by warlords and their militias.

A number of changes have been made to AMISOM this year already to help in the fight against Al Shabaab. Most notable was the decision to formally integrate Ethiopian forces into AMISOM. Ethiopian forces had already been engaged in operations along the border with Somalia, which sometimes resulted in them crossing over. Now, over four thousand Ethiopian troops are operating with AMISOM in the country. When the decision was announced in January, AMISOM said that they hoped the influx of Ethiopian troops would free up other peacekeepers to fight militants in the country’s south.

In February, Kenya also announced that it was planning on reducing its presence in the southern port town of Kismayo. The move had been made after the Somali authorities complained Kenyan forces were an impediment to exercise central government control in the region. Kenya has supported nominally pro-government warlords in southern Somalia for some time. In 2011, some of these groups declared a semi-autonomous region, called Jubaland. Somalia’s many semi-autonomous actors are a major roadblock to establishing a functional state.

International partners are also looking to step up their involvement in the country. In January, it was reported that the US military would be sending military personnel to the country, the first official military presence there in decades. In recent testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, the Commander of US Africa Command (AFRICOM), Army General David M. Rodriguez said the military coordination cell in the capital Moghadishu numbered three people, who were working to “coordinate with UN and other partnered forces to disrupt and contain al-Shabaab forces and expand areas under the control of the nominal government.” General Rodriguez also acknowledged that “Precise partnered and unilateral operations [conducted by special operations forces] continue to play limited but important roles in weakening al-Shabaab.” European nations, such as Germany, are also sending additional military personnel to help train and advise Somali government forces.

Al Shabaab remains a significant threat however. The group carried out a bombing in Moghadishu at the end of February that killed twelve people and wounded numerous others near the headquarters of the country’s intelligence service. The fluidity of Somalia’s clan-based political scene is also a significant issue. The UN recently decided to maintain a partial arms embargo against the country after reports that arms shipments were being diverted to Al Shabaab linked groups. It was not clear, however, whether or not the government was simply trying to sway local warlords to their side.

A recent work published by Special Operations Command’s Joint Special Operations University on Somalia and the Al Shabaab insurgency noted that “Somalis are highly pragmatic people, prepared to switch allegiances if it gains them an advantage.” The authors suggest that “Trying to play politics within this unbelievably complex world..will only lead to outsiders being badly manipulated and inadvertently making enemies.”

Riek Machar Goes from Opposition to “Resistance”

Yesterday, former South Sudanese Vice President and defacto leader of anti-government rebels Riek Machar announced the formation of a group he said would focus on “resistance” to the current government.  Machar says the new group, somewhat confusingly titled the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement / Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLM/SPLA; the country’s ruling party is also called the SPLM and its national army is called the SPLA), serves to organize various existing rebel forces in the country against the current regime. Machar specifically mentioned rebels fighting in Upper Nile, Unity, and Jonglei states as having joined his movement, along with those in “Equatoria.”  South Sudan’s southern region is broken up into Western, Central, and Eastern Equatoria states, and it is unclear which Machar was referring to.

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Snapshot of the South Sudan Crisis, as of 4 January 2014

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Snapshot of the South Sudan Crisis, as of 4 January 2014

Machar made the announcement from an undisclosed location.  He is currently wanted by the government on charges stemming from a reported coup attempt last year.  South Sudanese authorities say that Machar was behind the coup, which Machar denies.  He claims the government of President Salva Kiir is engaged in a crackdown on dissenting voices and has been fomenting ethnic unrest to hide the political nature of the dispute.  In announcing the SPLM/SPLA, Machar also called on the eleven individuals detained following the coup attempt to join his movement.  Seven of those individuals have since been released and were deported to neighboring Kenya, as part of an apparent deal brokered by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), a regional economic bloc.  The remaining individuals have been charged with treason.

The formation of the SPLM/SPLA is the latest in a series of events that calls into question the viability of a ceasefire agreement, which was facilitated by IGAD last month, as well as near term hopes for peace and reconciliation.  Though the ceasefire did not immediately come into force once signed, there have been accusations of continued violence by both rebels and South Sudanese security forces, as well as reports of looting and misappropriation of humanitarian aid. There is also the matter of the remaining detainees and an intervention on behalf of the South Sudanese government by Uganda.  Rebels and IGAD members like Kenya continue to call for the release of the remaining individuals detained following the coup attempt.  South Sudan has refused to release them, and has also brought charges against those not in its custody, including Machar and Taban Deng.  Taban Deng signed the IGAD-brokered ceasefire agreement on behalf of the rebels.  Uganda, a member of IGAD, has also refused to pull out its troops.

The fighting in South Sudan has displaced over a half a million people, over eighty-five thousand of which are sheltering in or around facilities run by the UN Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS).  Limited access has made accounting for those killed or wounded in the fighting difficult for outside observers to independently establish.

Kenya to Withdraw Troop’s from Somalia’s Kismayo

It was reported today that Kenya plans to reduce its presence in the Somali port city of Kismayo in the country’s south.  About two hundred Kenyan personnel will remain, but the bulk of the peacekeeping duties there will be taken over by forces from Burundi and Sierra Leon.  All three countries are providers of forces to the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).

Map released by AFRICOM in its 2013 posture statement showing governance in Somalia in 2012 and 2013.  One can see the decline in areas reported to be under Al-Shabaab control.

Map released by AFRICOM in its 2013 posture statement showing governance in Somalia in 2012 and 2013. Note that Kismayo and other areas in the country’s south are only described as “pro-government.”

The decision to withdraw the troops comes in response to complaints from Somali authorities that they were hindering attempts to assert central government control.  The ability of the central government to effectively assert its authority continues to be a serious issue.  Currently the top third of the country consists of semi-autonomous regions of Puntland and Somliland, which have had a complicated relationship with central government authority.  In 2011, warlords in the south declared another semi-autonomous region, Jubaland, with its Kismayo as its defacto capital.  The nominally supportive of the central government, the warlords in control of Jubaland are backed by Kenya and there has been the suggestion that Jubaland is effectively a buffer state against the spillover of violence from the AMISOM campaign against the Al Shabaab militant group.

Semi-autonomous regions are not the only problems the United Nations-backed Somali government has been having with regards to asserting their authority.  Today, the UN’s top envoy in Somalia voiced concern about rising tensions at a federal state-building conference in the city of Baidoa.  The conference is intended to help the process of simply establishing a federal state in the area.  Much of Somalia remains under the control of loosely aligned warlords with backing from various regional actors like Kenya and Ethiopia, and international entities, like the US Central Intelligence Agency.  The US recently deployed military advisors to work on training the central government’s actual security forces.  The US has also worked on training forces for deployment in support of AMISOM and has also launched targeted strikes against Al Shabaab leadership figures, including one just this week.  Given all this, the UN has been pushing recently for a new and cohesive strategy to support Somali peace and security and the development of its institutions.

South Sudan Makes Moves on Detainees

Today there have been reports of two important developments on the matter of individuals detained followed a reported coup in South Sudan this past December.  Seven of the eleven individuals arrested, who have come to be known as the “Garang Boys” for their connection to national hero John Garang, were released and deported to Kenya.  South Sudan, however, said it would proceed with a trial against the remaining four individuals, along with three others not currently in custody.  Notably among those individuals is former Vice President Riek Machar.

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Snapshot of the South Sudan Crisis, as of 4 January 2014

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Snapshot of the South Sudan Crisis, as of 4 January 2014

Machar, who has become the defacto leadership figure for the rebellion that has followed the coup attempt and arrest of the Garang Boys, had said that the release of all of the detainees was required for negotiations on a peaceful resoltuion of the current crisis.  This was echoed by the delegation representing the rebels at talks held in Ethiopia, arranged by the east African economic organization, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD).  Some IGAD members have also called for the release of the detainees, a demand which the South Sudanese government has staunchly refused to acquiesce to.  Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta, who appeared with the detainees sent to his country, said he and other regional leaders would continue to press for the release of the rest of the detainees.

Peace and reconciliation may continue to elude South Sudan with these announcements, however.  While both sides continue to say they are committed to the ceasefire agreed to at the IGAD sponsored talks, Taban Deng, the head of the delegation representing the rebels who signed that agreement on their behalf is among those sought for trial.  In addition to the continued pursuit of these treason charges, Ugandan forces, who intervened on behalf of the South Sudanese government, remain in the country.  Their presence has become a divisive issue, both among the parties to the conflict and among other east African leaders.  Uganda is a key member of IGAD.

All of this also comes as the United Nations reports almost half a million people to be displaced in the country, including almost eighty thousand sheltering in or around facilities operated by the UN Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS).  The UN says it needs over $200 million to meet immediate humanitarian needs through March, but had only received a little over $100 million as of January 13th.  The UN has described the current situation in the country as “fragile.”

US Forces Train for Search and Rescue in East Africa

On January 12th, elements of the US Army’s East Africa Response Force (EARF) and US Air Force expeditionary rescue squadrons conducted a joint training exercise at the Grand Bara Range in Djibouti.  The soldiers for 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, the current force provider for the EARF teamed up aircrews and pararescuemen from the 81st and 82d Expeditionary Rescue Squadrons (ERQS) respectively.  All of these units are based at Camp Lemonnier, also in Djibouti.

Soldiers of the 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, assigned to the East Africa Response Force, provide security as pararescuemen of the 82d Expeditionary Rescue Squadron (ERQS) return to an HC-130 of the 81st ERQS during a training exercise on January 12th, 2014.

Soldiers of the 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, assigned to the East Africa Response Force, provide security as pararescuemen of the 82d Expeditionary Rescue Squadron (ERQS) return to an HC-130 of the 81st ERQS during a training exercise on January 12th, 2014.

The exercise was designed to help Air Force personnel “maintain proficiency in advanced parachuting, rapid vehicle movement, infiltration and exfiltration” and give Army forces a chance to “[enhance] their skills in aircraft security measures.”  During the exercise, HC-130 aircraft from the 81st ERQS landed in the Grand Bara Range and deployed pararescuemen and EARF soldiers, the latter of which secured the landing zone.  Such a method could potentially be employed to rescue personnel should a US aircraft go down somewhere in the region.

A pararescuman of the 82d Expeditionary Rescue Squadron jumps from an HH-60G of the 303d ERQS during Neptune's Falcon, a joint training exercise with the US Navy's Coastal Riverine Squadron One-Forward off the coast of Djibouti on December 20th, 2013.

A pararescueman of the 82d Expeditionary Rescue Squadron jumps from an HH-60G of the 303d ERQS during Neptune’s Falcon, a joint training exercise with the US Navy’s Coastal Riverine Squadron One-Forward off the coast of Djibouti on December 20th, 2013.

This search and rescue focused joint exercise follows another one held in Djibouti this past December.  During that exercise, called Neptune’s Falcon, personnel from the Navy’s Coastal Riverine Squadron One – Forward teamed up with pararescuemen from the 82d ERQS and HH-60G helicopters from the 303d ERQS to train off the coast of Djibouti.  The 303d ERQS is also stationed at Camp Lemonnier, and together with the 81st and 82d ERQS make up the 449th Air Expeditionary Group.

These missions are more than just common scenarios as well.  In an attempt to rescue US and other foreign nationals from the South Sudanese town of Bor last year, CV-22s from the Air Force Special Operations Command took damage and were forced to abort the mission.  While the three aircraft made it safely to Entebbe in Uganda, there was of course the possibility the aircraft might not have made it and been forced down in a hostile area. Another example is that of the crash near Camp Lemonnier of an Air Force Special Operations Command U-28A in February 2012.  The aircraft had been returning from an intelligence gathering mission.

Nor are US operations limited to Camp Lemonnier or Entebbe.  US forces routinely operate from various locations in east Africa to conduct counterterrrorism operations and intelligence overflights, as well as training exercises.  On January 23rd, the Defense Logistics Agency announced a solicitation for a contract to provide “Petroleum Fuel Support For Various DoD Activities In Africa.”  This three year contract includes requirements to supply jet fuel to Camp Lemonnier and Chabelley Airfield in Djibouti, Arba Minch Airport in Ethiopia, and Manda Bay in Kenya.  DoD has requirements for the supply of other fuel types like regular gasoline and diesel fuels to other locations in Central African Republic, Niger, South Sudan, and the Island of Sao Tome (where the requirement is said to be in support of the operation a Voice of American radio relay station).

With this increased US engagement in Africa comes increased potential for both hostile activity and accidents, which would in turn require search and rescue operations.  It is likely that these sort of exercises will continue, especially in the near future with the current emphasis on rapidly deploying elements to and around the continent by air.

US Sends Military Advisors to Somalia

The Washington Post reported today that this past October, the US military deployed advisory personnel to Somalia to assist in the development of the national security forces and coordinate with African peacekeepers currently in the country.  This represents a logical expansion of the US effort with regards to Somalia.  The United States already provides significant assistance to African forces deploying in support of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) as part of the Africa Contingency Operations Training and Assistance (ACOTA) program and others.  ACOTA is managed by the US Department of State with help from the Department of Defense.

However, the deployment is notable given the stand-off approach the US has favored following participation in UN peacekeeping operations in the country in the early 1990s.  The US experience in Somalia was decidedly negative, even beyond the relatively well known “Black Hawk Down” incident in October 1993. Since then, the US has preferred to use airstrikes, including strikes by AC-130 gunships and unmanned aerial vehicles, as well as raids by special operations forces.  In the last decade or so, unmanned aerial vehicles operating over Somalia have said to have been based in Djibouti, Ethiopia, and Kenya.  This past October saw both a special operations raid, which was aborted, and a drone strike, both directed at the terrorist group Al-Shabaab.  In addition, it has been reported that the US Central Intelligence Agency has been funding nominally pro-government warlords and pursuing other activities to help in this effort.

Map released by AFRICOM in its 2013 posture statement showing governance in Somalia in 2012 and 2013.  One can see the decline in areas reported to be under Al-Shabaab control.

Map released by AFRICOM in its 2013 posture statement showing governance in Somalia in 2012 and 2013.

The two successive UN missions provided results that were themselves inconclusive at best and did not dramatically improve the landscape for the Somali people.  Many of the same issues that complicated those missions in the 1990s remain factors for operations today as Ethiopian and Kenyan forces have learned in the last decade.  While Ethiopian troops have long since withdrawn from the country, Kenya remains one of the primary contributors to AMISOM.  There have also been reports of Kenyan support for warlords in a semi-autonomous region in the south of the country, called Jubaland.

Though Somali government and international forces had significant success against Al-Shabaab between 2012 and 2013, the group experienced a certain resurgence in the past year.  As a result violence and international attention have again shifted to the country.  In November, the UN authorized a significant expansion of the AMISOM force, which operates under a UN mandate.  AMISOM also began planning a new offensive against Al-Shabaab and just today  Kenya announced that it had conducted an airstrike against militants near the tri-border area between Somalia, Kenya, and Ethiopia.  It is likely that any new effort against Al-Shabaab in Somalia is benefiting at least in some part from US supplied intelligence, which is likely one of the main reasons for establishing a formal US military presence on the ground in the country.