Kenyan Navy Softens Up Kismayo Prior to AMISOM Attack

Andrew McGregor

September 13, 2012

Kenya’s navy continues to play an important role in the multi-national struggle against Somalia’s al-Qaeda affiliated al-Shabaab movement by shelling the Shabaab-held port of Kismayo in southern Somalia. These operations come at a time when Kenya is making significant upgrades to its naval capacity through purchase or donation. These upgrades are intended to enhance Kenya’s ability to carry out anti-piracy and counter-terrorism operations in the Indian Ocean.

KNS 1KNS Harambee II

Kismayo’s port operations and lucrative charcoal trade are the main source of revenue for al-Shabaab since it pulled out of Mogadishu last year. Other forces that have gathered around Kismayo in preparation for the final assault include Ugandan and Burundian AMISOM troops, Somali government forces and the local Ras Kamboni militia of Ahmad Muhammad Islam “Madobe,” which were expelled from Kismayo by al-Shabaab in 2009. British experts are reported to have played a facilitating role in planning sessions for the assault on Kismayo held in Nairobi and attended by Ugandan AMISOM commander Lieutenant General Andrew Gutti (Daily Nation [Nairobi], September 4).

Since Kenya joined the campaign against al-Shabaab with Operation Linda Nchi in October, 2011, the Kenyan navy has participated in naval operations designed to restrict al-Shabaab supplies of arms and fuel, secure Kenyan waters from terrorist infiltrators and deter piracy (see Terrorism Monitor, November 11, 2011). While the Kenyan Army deployment in Somalia formally joined the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) on June 11, the Kenyan Navy and Air Force (which has also carried out bombing operations over Kismayo) were not included in the agreement and thus do not come under the Ugandan-dominated AMISOM command structure.

Kenyan warships are now playing an important role degrading the defenses and military capacity of those al-Shabaab militants who have not seized the opportunity to join the civilian flight out of Kismayo. There are reports that al-Shabaab has attempted to stiffen its resistance by bringing in hundreds of reinforcements in armored vehicles ( [Mogadishu], September 7). Even if al-Shabaab is forced to make a strategic withdrawal from Kismayo, occupying AMISOM forces are almost certain to be met by improvised explosive devices, land-mines and ambushes by hidden militants (after the pattern of  Mogadishu).

After reportedly being provoked by an al-Shabaab gunboat, a Kenyan navy ship fired ten rounds on Kismayo on September 3, while the port area and airport were shelled the next day (Daily Nation [Nairobi], September 5; VOA, September 4; BBC, September 4). Kenyan ships fired on what they believed to be a Kismayo arms cache on September 5, killing a reported seven Shabaab militants and destroying a stockpile of “technicals” [armored battle wagons], arms and munitions (RFI, September 6). Residents of the town said the attack began shortly after the militants had dragged the bodies of four Kenyan soldiers killed in the battle for Afmadow into the town square for public display (RFI, September 6). A Kenyan ship fired on a Shabaab anti-aircraft emplacement on September 11.

In the last few months Kenya has added two ships to its fleet that will significantly enhance its naval strength. In June, France donated the 1976 vintage patrol boat La Rieuse, one of ten ships of the P400 class used to patrol the waters of its overseas possessions. Equipped with a 40mm cannon, La Rieuse operated in the Indian Ocean from the French base at Réunion. Most of the P400 class are now being decommissioned, but La Rieuse (now renamed KNS Harambee II) was donated in the interests of helping Kenya carry out high seas security operations (, June 7;, June 10).

KNS 2KNS Jasiri

Kenya has also finally taken possession of the 140-ton Jasiri, a Spanish-built oceanographic survey vessel that has been fitted with naval guns, missiles, machine-guns and radar and communications systems, making it the most powerful ship on the East African coast (Nairobi Star, August 30). The ship was supposed to be delivered in 2005, but the purchase became entangled in Kenya’s Anglo-Leasing corruption scandal. As a result, the ship sat without maintenance in a Spanish dock for seven years. A Kenyan delegation arrived to complete the deal in February but instead rejected the ship on the grounds that much of the equipment was outdated and no longer functioning. After an unsuccessful attempt to sell the ship to the Nigerian Navy, Kenya finally negotiated a deal with the Jasiri’s builders, Euromarine Industries (Nairobi Star, April 27).

Mombasa, the Kenyan Navy’s main port, was consumed by deadly street riots when the Jasiri arrived following the assassination of Muslim preacher Aboud Rogo Muhammad, a well-known supporter of al-Shabaab. A statement issued by al-Shabaab urged Kenyan Muslims to “take all necessary measures to protect their religion, their honor, their property and their lives from the enemies of Islam” (AFP, August 29).

Nonetheless, Kenyan Chief of Defense Forces, General Julius Karangi, warned that the arrival of the Jasiri had shifted the power equation on the East African coast: “Jasiri has capabilities and capacities that we did not have. If there are some people out there thinking they can come to our waters and worry us, let them know that things can get very tough for them” (Africa Review [Nairobi], August 31). The Navy has not yet announced whether the Jasiri will participate in the Kismayo operation, but its deployment there seems likely after trials are carried out.

This article first appeared in the September 13, 2012 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor

Al-Qaeda Expands to Puntland in Anticipation of Oil Boom

Andrew McGregor

March 8, 2012

Under military pressure from Kenyan forces, the African Union Mission in Somalia and various Somali militias and government forces campaigning in its traditional area of operations in southern Somalia, al-Shabaab has announced an expansion into Puntland, a semi-autonomous region in northern Somalia that has so far been better known as a center for offshore piracy than for Islamist militancy. Nevertheless, a dirty, low-level war of assassinations, bombings and clashes between Islamist gunmen and local security forces has been going on for several years.

Puntland Security Forces on Parade

The announcement, which follows last month’s unification of al-Shabaab with al-Qaeda, came in the form of a proclamation from Yassin Khalid ‘Uthman (a.k.a. Yassin Kilwe Yuma), the self-described “Amir of the Mujahideen in the Golis Mountains [an area of caves and rough terrain in northwest Puntland]” that his fighters have joined al-Shabaab and pledged loyalty to its leader, Shaykh Ahmad Abdi Godane “Abu Zubayr.” The “Amir” was clear that his group was aligning itself with al-Qaeda: “I want to praise God for the unity of our Shabaab brothers with al-Qaeda fighters… I want to declare today that we are joined with our al-Shabaab brothers who are devoted to the jihad in Somalia” (al-Andalus Radio, February 26; al-Kataib Media, February 27). The new al-Shabaab/al-Qaeda chapter in Puntland may have announced its presence in a more material way on March 3, when at least nine people were killed at a Puntland security checkpoint near the commercial capital of Bosasso (25 miles from the Galgala region) during an attack by militants (Reuters, March 3).

Yassin Kilwe is thought to be part of the Galgala militia that operates in the Golis Mountains in a diminished capacity since it was targeted by a three-month military offensive by the Puntland Intelligence Service. [1] The militia, if not a formal part of al-Shabaab, has traditionally operated in sympathy with al-Shabaab’s objectives.

Puntland frequently accuses neighboring Somaliland, with which it has several territorial disputes, of providing support for the Galgala Islamists, while Somaliland accuses Puntland of seeking military dominance in northern Somalia. The known leader of the Galgala militants is Shaykh Muhammad Sa’id Atam, who routinely denies any formal ties between his group and al-Shabaab, assertions that have been confirmed in the past by al-Shabaab spokesman Shaykh Ali Mahmud Raage “Ali Dheere” (VOA Somali Service, July 29). However, it was also Ali Dheere who welcomed the merger of the “Mujahideen in the Golis Mountains” with al-Shabaab (Dayniile, February 27).

Greater Puntland – Includes disputed territories

Yassin Kilwe’s claim to be Amir of the Galgala militants immediately raised speculation regarding the leadership role of Shaykh Atam, who has not made any statement since Yassin Kilwe’s announcement (, February 25). There were reports that many of the Galgala militants were unhappy with the merger with “a terrorist group,” and Kilwe may represent a new faction that has split from the main Galgala group to join al-Shabaab/al-Qaeda (Somalia Report, February 28). A Puntland government spokesman said the merger “doesn’t have any effect on Puntland’s peace and tranquility and the armed forces who already made them weak are ready to fight them” (, February 26). The Puntland administration has said that they already knew that the Galgala militants were part of al-Qaeda (a common refrain in government comments on the militants) and security has been tightened in the areas of oil exploration operations (Dayniile, February 27). AMISOM is expected to make a decision within days on whether to deploy African Union peacekeepers from an expanded force in Puntland.

Canada’s Africa Oil Corp. and its Australian partners Red Emperor and Range Resources began drilling in northern Puntland in January, the first oil operations in Somalia for two decades. The Nugaal and Dharoor fields are believed to have as much as 300 million to 4 billion barrels of oil, the first of which is expected to flow within a month (Reuters, February 25; Observer, February 25). There may be much more oil in offshore fields off Puntland’s coast. Galgala and other parts of the Bari region are also above the Majiyahan Ta-Sn Deposit, a zone rich in minerals such as Albite, Quartz, Microcline, Tantalite, Tapiolite, Cassiterite, Spodumene and Muscovite. Somali prime minister Abdiweli Muhammad Ali has promised a cut of his nation’s natural resources in exchange for foreign investment and reconstruction assistance: “There’s room for everybody when this country gets back on its feet and is ready for investment,” though he also noted: “The only way we can pay [Western companies] is to pay them in kind, we can pay with natural resources at the fair market value.” (Observer, February 25). Britain’s BP has been mentioned as the foreign oil company of choice for Somalia’s transitional government, but so far the firm has downplayed rumors it is working on a major deal for the offshore reserves. The British government has also denied charges that its sudden interest in Somalia (hosting international conferences on Somalia, providing humanitarian aid and reconstruction assistance, etc.) is part of an effort to gain commercial considerations for British firms in Somalia (Garowe Online, February 27).

Last week, al-Shabaab began sending internet and Twitter messages warning that “Somali oil carries death” (SAPA-AP, March 1). The movement has said that it is canceling the licenses of Western oil and gas firms operating in Puntland, possibly the first step in a new campaign of attacks on Western exploration facilities.


1. See Andrew McGregor, “Puntland’s Shaykh Muhammad Atam: Clan Militia Leader or al-Qaeda Terrorist?,” Militant Leadership Monitor, September 29, 2010. 

This article first appeared in the March 8, 2012 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor.

Desperate Measures: Somalia’s al-Shabaab Joining al-Qaeda

Andrew McGregor

February 23, 2012

In what he described as “good news” that would “annoy the Crusaders,” al-Qaeda leader Shaykh Ayman al-Zawahiri announced the incorporation of Somalia’s al-Shabaab militants as an official new chapter of al-Qaeda on February 9. [1] Al-Shabaab leader Shaykh Ahmad Abdi Godane “Abu Zubayr” appeared in the 15-minute videotape to pledge his movement’s obedience to al-Zawahiri and promised to follow “the road of jihad and martyrdom, in the footsteps that our martyr Osama bin Laden has drawn for us.”

The merger may be the first step in an al-Qaeda effort to ensure the survival of the movement by expanding into the larger Islamic world through the creation of official al-Qaeda affiliates without the so far apparent and unstated requirement for an Arab leadership.