Though Kenya has one of the largest militaries in East Africa, second only to Ethiopia, its Army has very little battlefield experience, and would face substantial challenges in Somalia, a country that has been in a near-continuous civil war since the fall of the Siad Barre government in 1991.
Among the risks are the possibility of terrorist attacks on Kenyan targets by Shabab sympathizers or operatives, a possibility underlined by Shabab spokesmen on Sunday. But Kenya appears to have decided that the risks of having a perpetually destabilized country on its northern border – and the incessant flow of Somali refugees into Kenya – are worth the effort of intervention.
Kenya – a country that depends heavily on tourism – has suffered shocks to its safe reputation after the recent kidnappings of two Spanish aid workers with the group Doctors Without Borders from a refugee camp last week, the kidnapping of a British tourist and murder of her husband from their hotel room in the coastal city of Lamu in early September, and the apparent copy-cat kidnapping of an elderly French tourist from her home in Lamu in late September.
Kenya hosts more than 500,000 Somali refugees in a cluster of camps in Dadaab along the Somali border, and countless other Somalis have integrated into Kenya’s cities, particularly in the Nairobi neighborhood of Eastleigh.
From Somalia, Shabab spokesman Sheikh Hassan Turki promised to push out Kenyan troops from Somalia, and called on Somalis to “stand united against this blood-thirsty enemy that has crossed into our territories and the apostate Somali militants helping them.”