Kenya’s Navy Joins Counter-Terrorist Operations Off Somalia

Andrew McGregor

November 10, 2011

Kenya’s navy has joined the Kenyan military offensive in Somalia with operations designed to end al-Shabaab or third-party resupply or arms, fuel and other materiel to Shabaab-held territories in southern Somalia, secure Kenyan waters from terrorist infiltrators and prepare conditions for a two-pronged land and sea assault on the Shabaab-held port of Kismayo. Kenyan forces crossed the border into southern Somalia on October 16 as part of Operation Linda Nchi

The main objective of the Kenyan campaign is to seize the port of Kismayo, a vital source of revenues for al-Shabaab as well as a connection between the Islamist movement and the wider world. With al-Shabaab’s loss of the lucrative Mogadishu markets last August and a summer long drought that created massive out-migration from al-Shabaab-held regions of southern Somalia, the loss of Kismayo would represent a severe body-blow to the Somali militants. Kenyan military sources have indicated that the Kenyan navy will play an important part in the attack on Kismayo (Daily Nation [Nairobi], October 30). Kenyan jets have already started bombardment of the port region. Kenya’s navy possesses an amphibious assault vessel, though a risky amphibious assault on Kismayo would be ambitious for a nation still in the early days of its first extraterritorial operation.

Kenyan Naval Ensign

Kenya’s small navy consists largely of a handful of small British-built missile boats, Spanish-built patrol boats and a number of American and Spanish-built inshore patrol vessels (IPVs). In recent years the Kenyan Navy has come under local criticism for failing to do enough to tackle the problems of piracy, narcotics smuggling and illegal fishing by foreign trawlers in Kenyan waters (Nairobi Chronicle, February 11, 2009). However, Kenya’s Navy has been hampered in carrying out deep-water operations by deficiencies in its fleet. The fleet’s two Spanish-built patrol boats (Shuja and Shupavu) have had unexpected range and sea-handling problems, while another ship designed for long-range patrols, the KNS Jasiri, has sat in a Spanish dock since its completion in 2005 due to an unresolved dispute between Kenya and the European contractor (Nairobi Chronicle, December 16, 2008; DefenceWeb, July 4).

Nonetheless, Kenya’s military intervention in Somalia has been greatly aided by the return of the missile boats Nyayo and Umoja from an over two-year refit in Italy. The two 1987 vintage ships had their Otomat missiles removed as part of the refit but were otherwise extensively modernized. Their return has given the Kenyan military greater confidence in their ability to control the southern Somali coastline during the ongoing operations.

On November 2, a Kenyan patrol boat in Somali waters sank a ship they claimed was transporting fuel and al-Shabaab fighters to Kuday in the Bajuni coral islands off the southern Somali coast. Military spokesmen claimed all 18 al-Shabaab militants aboard the ship were killed (Daily Nation [Nairobi], November 3; Capital FM [Nairobi], November 3; The Standard [Nairobi], November 4).  [1] The Bajuni coral islands of Kuday, Ndoa, Chuvaye, Koyama, Fuma Iyu na Tini and Nchoni were traditionally inhabited by the non-Somali Bajuni culture, speaking a dialect of Swahili. Somalis began forcing the Bajuni from the islands during the Siad Barre regime, a trend that actually worsened after the collapse of his government in 1991 as many Bajuni sought refuge in Kenya.

A second ship was sunk on November 4, when a Kenyan ship opened fire on a vessel coming from the region of Ras Kamboni in southern Somalia. According to Kenyan military spokesman Major Emmanuel Chirchir, “The boat was challenged to stop for identification but continued to approach the Kenya Navy at high speed, and consequently they fired on it” (Daily Nation [Nairobi], November 4).

Kenyan Sailors on Parade

Soon after the attack, however, Kenyan fishermen in the Magarini district claimed that the eight killed were local fishermen. According to the three survivors, the unarmed fishermen had identified themselves and surrendered before the Kenyan ship opened fire, though the commander of the Kenyan ship denies any such surrender took place. [2] A district commissioner later affirmed the identity of the survivors as local fishermen (Daily Nation [Nairobi], November 4). Kenyan officials say the government has issued clear instructions to fishermen that fishing off northern Kenya must be done in the daytime while fishing in Somali waters is prohibited (The Standard [Nairobi], November 4).

Kenya’s military has also warned merchant ships in the Indian Ocean against helping foreign fighters in Somalia to escape to Yemen. Kenya claims foreign fighters have gathered in Barawe and Marka to escape from the Kenyan offensive (Daily Nation [Nairobi], November 4).


1. For video see

2. See Nairobi TV interview, November 7, 2011:

This article first appeared in the November 10, 2011 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor.