Somalia's president wants thousands of troops trained in Kenya to be deployed to Mogadishu for an upcoming offensive against Islamist militants, but Kenya has denied the request, yet another complication for a military campaign that has already been delayed several times, officials said. The fact that Kenya could veto Somali wishes for the deployment of its own troops underscores that the Kenyan government wields power in the neighboring country, which has a weak, UN-backed government.
In a March 21 letter that The Associated Press obtained a copy of, Somali President Sharif Sheik Ahmed asked Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki for Kenya's support for a plan to transfer control of 2,500 Somali troops trained in Kenya over the last several months to the current defense minister.
That would mean the troops would be moved from the Somali-Kenya border to the Somali capital, Mogadishu, large parts of which are controlled by al-Shabab, a militant group linked to al-Qaida. Kenya's president rejected the plan based on fears that if the troops are sent to Mogadishu, Kenya's porous frontier with Somalia would be vulnerable to cross-border incursions, said a Somali government official on Tuesday who spoke on condition he not be identified because of the sensitivity of the matter. Kenyan government spokesman Alfred Mutua declined to comment. "Kibaki respects Somalia's president and his government, but when it comes to national security, Kenya's interest comes first," said Abdullahi Hassan, a political analyst and lecturer at Nairobi's Kenyatta University.
It was not known if the issue would cause further delays to an offensive aimed at restoring Somali government control to large parts of Somalia and hitting a radical movement that has imposed harsh justice, including stonings and amputations, and stoked terrorism fears in the Horn of Africa and beyond. The offensive has been pushed back repeatedly, in part because of a lack of military resources.
Kenya mediated a two-year peace process that led to the formation of Somalia's fragile government and hosts hundreds of thousands of Somali refugees. Leaders of Somalia's government have regularly consulted with their Kenyan counterparts. Some of the troops trained in Kenya were rumored to be Kenyan nationals of Somali origin.