Monthly Archives: March, 2012

Three Takeaways from Last Week’s Coup in Mali

Last week in Mali, mid-level military officers led by Captain Amadou Haya Sanogo declared themselves the National Committee for the Restoration of Democracy and State (CNRDR) and deposed democratically-elected president Amadou Toumani Touré in a bloodless coup. Known as the “soldier of democracy” Touré had himself launched a coup in 1991 against the military regime of General Moussa Traoré. Touré, then stepped aside the following year, allowing elections to usher in two decades of multiparty democracy. Having retired from the military, Touré was elected president in 2002, and was due to step down next month at the end of his second term. Presidential elections scheduled for April 29 would have marked the third successful transition of power from one democratically elected Malian president to his successor, and the further consolidation of the country’s democracy. Yet the spillover from the fall of the Qadhafi regime in Libya gave elements of the armed forces a pretext to oust Touré from power.

Battle-hardened and heavily armed Tuaregs who had fought in the military of the late Muammar al-Qadhafi began to return to their countries of origin – Mali and Niger – in the summer and fall of 2011. For those well-versed in the conflict dynamics of the Sahel, it was only a matter of time before the impact of this Tuareg exodus would be felt in the region. In January 2012, the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) began to launch attacks in Azawad, a region encompassing the administrative regions of Gao, Kidal, and Timbuktu. Despite having fought two previous Tuareg rebellions (1962-1964 and 1990-1995) since independence, the Malian armed forces were caught off balance. In just over two months, the MNLA seized several northern towns and killed an undisclosed number of Malian soldiers, leading to the perception among lower ranking officers that Mali’s civilian government has mishandled its response to the conflict.

Touré has not been seen in public since last week’s coup, and much remains uncertain about the CNRDR’s seizure of power. However, there are three takeaways that are immediately apparent:

  1. The coup appears more opportunistic than it does rational. By seizing power a little over a month before scheduled elections, the military junta has precluded an alternative civilian approach to fighting the conflict in the north.
  2. As there have been no expressions of support from the upper echelons of the Malian armed forces, the coup may be a setback in terms of the military’s cohesion and effectiveness at dealing with the Tuareg rebellion. This may allow the MNLA to capitalize on the current state of affairs, and could similarly create a security vacuum for Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) to exploit.
  3. The rationale for the coup is in direct contradiction to the CNRDR’s stated objective to defeat the Tuareg insurgency and restore constitutional order. Due to the CNRDR’s unconstitutional actions, several countries and international organizations have suspended assistance to the Malian government until civilian rule is restored. Yesterday afternoon, the U.S. State Department suspended non-humanitarian assistance to Mali pending a resolution of events on the ground. According to Section 7008 of the State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act, the U.S. government restricts security assistance to the “government of any country whose duly elected head of government is deposed by military coup or decree.” Under this determination, it appears that Mali is now subject to Section 7008, making it illegal for the U.S. government to continue the International Military Education and Training (IMET) and Foreign Military Financing (FMF) that Mali received, as well as Mali’s participation in the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership (TSCTP). Ironically, although the CNRDR claims to lack adequate arms and supplies to confront Tuareg rebels, they have disqualified Mali from receiving security assistance from the United States and other key partners – without which it may actually be more difficult to reverse the momentum of the MNLA. This is significant, because it means that Mali’s return to civilian rule may be prolonged, which prompts the question of how long the CNRDR will be able to stay in power before it must resort to the use of force in order to quell civilian discontent.

Lasting Solutions Elusive for South Sudan’s Militia Problem

(Originally published in World Politics Review on March 12, 2012)

Since the spring of 2010, South Sudan has been facing an onslaught of militia activity in Unity, Upper Nile and Jonglei states. For the most part, the government has pursued an “amnesty and integration” policy toward these militias, whereby members are offered amnesty for their past actions and integrated into the Southern People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), the former rebel group that now comprises the majority of South Sudan’s official security forces. The notable exception to this approach was George Athor, the rebel general who arguably posed the greatest internal threat to the government. Having refused multiple government overtures to persuade him to return to the fold, Athor was killed in December by the SPLA. Last month, soldiers loyal to Athor signed a cease-fire with the government and agreed to integrate into the SPLA, marking the last of this type of militia movement to lay down its arms. Nonetheless, South Sudan’s struggle with militias may not be over.

During Sudan’s second civil war from 1983-2005, successive regimes in Khartoum used divide-and-rule tactics to weaken the SPLA by funneling arms, food and other supplies to the SPLA’s rivals in Southern Sudan. By the time the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) was signed in 2005, more than 50,000 men were members of up to 60 so-called Other Armed Groups, which included rivals to the SPLA such as the South Sudan Defence Forces. Notably, representatives from these groups were excluded from the North-South peace negotiations that culminated in the CPA. Recognizing the potential for these groups to become spoilers to the peace process, Salva Kiir, president of the then-autonomous region of Southern Sudan, issued the Juba Declaration in January 2006. The declaration initiated the government’s amnesty and integration policy, offering members of various Southern militias amnesty for all war-related activities in exchange for their loyalty to the government of Southern Sudan and integration into the SPLA. Though not all militia members chose to integrate into the SPLA, this policy provided a measure of stability in Southern Sudan between 2006 and 2010…

(You can find the rest on or at

From Diplomacy to Invasion: Will Kenya be the Next Country That Fails to Stabilize Somalia?

(Originally published in the Journal of International Peace Operations, Volume 7, Number 5 – March-April 2012)

SINCE the fall of the Siad Barre regime in 1991, Kenya has opted to pursue a multilateral and primarily diplomatic approach to addressing the many problems in Somalia. Yet by the fall of 2011, the persistent instability emanating from Somalia had crossed Kenya’s threshold for large-scale military intervention. In October 2011, the Kenya Defense Forces (KDF) commenced Operation Linda Nchi – a conventional invasion of southern Somalia. Kenya’s objective, according to a government spokesman, was to dismantle the al-Qaeda-affiliated Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen without maintaining a prolonged presence in Somalia. There has since been speculation that Kenya also seeks to disrupt al-Shabaab’s finances by expelling it from the port city of Kismayo, which is the group’s greatest source of revenue. Although Kenya has one of the most professional militaries in Africa, prior to Operation Linda Nchi the KDF’s only recent combat experience had been a byproduct of its involvement in African Union (AU) and United Nations (UN) peacekeeping operations. As a result, the KDF had limited experience conducting joint expeditionary operations and virtually no experience fighting an unconventional adversary like al-Shabaab. With approximately 2,000 troops involved in this operation, Kenya joined the ranks of the UN, AU, United States, and Ethiopia – all of which have tried (and largely failed) to stabilize Somalia over the course of the past two decades. Together, Somalia’s long-standing challenges and the KDF’s limited combat experience prompt the question of whether Kenya might be the next country that fails to stabilize Somalia.

Crossing the Border

When the KDF crossed the Somali border, the situation in Somalia was in flux and it was unclear what impact Kenya’s incursion would have on the developments that had been unfolding in the months prior. As a result of the failed short rains (deyr) in the fall of 2010 and the erratic long rains (gu) in the spring of 2011, Somalia was experiencing a drought-induced famine. After two decades of warfare south and central Somalia were particularly hard hit, with four million people in need of emergency assistance. An average of 1,300 Somalis per day were crossing into Kenya at the height of the famine, joining the 500,000 Somalis that had sought refuge there over the past two decades. Concurrently, Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG) was becoming increasingly unpopular, ineffective, and bureaucratically deadlocked. In order to alleviate political infighting, the President of Uganda and the UN Special Representative for Somalia brokered the Kampala Accord in June 2011, which among other things, deferred the elections for the President, Speaker of Parliament, and his deputies until August 2012. In early September, various stakeholders were brought together for the Consultative Meeting on Ending the Transition in Somalia, during which they articulated a detailed roadmap to end the transitional period. Nonetheless, there was little optimism that these initiatives would break through the political stalemate in Mogadishu. In spite of these challenges, there was reason to be hopeful, as it appeared that the African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM) and TFG forces were turning the corner in expanding the areas under government control. Al-Shabaab was in serious decline as a result of internal fissures regarding global versus local Islamist agendas, their high-casualty tactics and draconian methods employed to control the population, and their mismanagement of the response to the famine. Al-Shabaab had executed a “tactical retreat” from the capital in early August yet maintained control over most of south and central Somalia. In September and October, unidentified assailants entered Kenya via land and sea, kidnapping tourists from resorts near Lamu and aid workers from the Dadaab refugee complex. In the weeks that followed these attacks, Kenya launched military operations in the Gedo, Middle Juba, and Lower Juba regions of southern Somalia as part of Operation Linda Nchi.
KDF operations were fraught with operational and tactical challenges from the outset. To start, Kenya entered Somalia with insufficient force strength to clear the regions within its operating area of what was believed to be al-Shabaab’s core military strength of between 5,000 and 10,000 battle-hardened fighters. Rather than allowing the level of support for al-Shabaab to continue its downward trajectory, Kenya’s invasion risked recreating the dynamics that led to the group’s rise in 2006, where the presence of foreign troops, in this case the Ethiopian military, catalyzed resistance inspired by nationalism rather than ideology. In addition, within weeks of crossing into southern Somalia, the KDF was forced to contend with flooding and poor road conditions as a result of the deyr rains. Due to the challenges posed to the KDF’s mobility and sustainment two months passed before Kenyan forces were truly able to resume their advance. The KDF was consequently robbed of the opportunity to capitalize on al-Shabaab’s lack of preparation for such an invasion. This delay also potentially gave al-Shabaab, which had been reeling from a succession of blows, time to regroup.

These challenges notwithstanding, the KDF has slowly been able to gain control of territory in southern Somalia and turn it over to Somali forces which are, for the moment, aligned with the TFG. Conversely, al-Shabaab has generally avoided major combat and has instead been drawing the KDF further into Somalia, which has the potential advantage of spreading Kenya’s force strength, stretching KDF supply lines, and making it vulnerable to asymmetric tactics such as improvised explosive devices (IEDs), suicide bombs, ambushes, and snipers. Should the KDF reach Kismayo it may also find itself engaged in urban warfare, should al-Shabaab mount a fierce defense of this lucrative commercial asset. This would require a change in KDF tactics, which may include a shift away from reliance on airstrikes against al-Shabaab strongholds in favor of increased ground operations that could expose the KDF to greater combat casualties – especially if Kenyan forces attempt to minimize civilian casualties by avoiding indiscriminate fire and shelling of heavily populated areas. Regardless, even if Kismayo is conquered and turned over to TFG-aligned forces, there is no guarantee that the fight among said forces to control the city would cease there.
By late November, Kenya had entered discussions with the AU and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) regarding the integration of KDF troops into the next phase of AMISOM’s troop deployment. While command relationships and respective operational priorities are yet to be determined, the AU and the UN are drafting a new concept of operations for AMISOM in which troop-contributing nations would have primary responsibility for discrete regions in south and central Somalia. The UN is also considering increasing AMISOM’s authorized force strength to 17,731 troops, although an AU-UN joint technical assessment mission has estimated that nearly twice as many troops might be required for AMISOM to conduct concurrent offensive operations throughout south and central Somalia. Kenya is anticipated to send 4,700 troops to fight in the Middle and Lower Juba regions of Somalia, should the UN authorize an augmentation of AMISOM to 17,731 troops. Still, AMISOM has routinely faced significant obstacles securing troop contributions from AU member states and acquiring the funding and logistic support that is essential for countries to deploy on schedule and with the appropriate force package. Therefore, the possibility exists that AMISOM may not be able to muster the forces and resources required in time to take advantage of al-Shabaab’s weakened stature.
Will it work?

While Operation Linda Nchi has many inherent risks and challenges, Kenya’s failure in Somalia is not necessarily preordained. With al-Shabaab on the run and Kenya’s participation in AMISOM likely to be approved in the coming months, the KDF may well be an asset in the current offensive to consolidate areas under TFG control. However, as al-Shabaab is but one symptom of Somalia’s enduring security, political, and humanitarian challenges it is unlikely that the group’s demise would usher in an era of stability in Somalia that would, in turn, make Kenya more secure. Of note, although the UN has declared an end to famine conditions in south and central Somalia, the demand signal for humanitarian assistance persists and the option for Somalis to seek refuge in Kenya remains an attractive one. Moreover, the TFG’s political process remains deadlocked, and is potentially the Achilles’ heel of the entire effort to stabilize Somalia. Many Somalia analysts were not optimistic that the Kampala Accord and its consequent roadmap to end the transitional period would result in the establishment of an effective central government; their skepticism reflects the perception of the TFG as part of the problem, not part of the solution. Therefore, even if Operation Linda Nchi is effective at dismantling al-Shabaab, it may be unlikely to stabilize Somalia.
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