Monthly Archives: October 2011

Questions About Civilian Casualties Linger Around Kenya’s Offensive

There is a bit of a spat unfolding between the Kenyan military and Doctors Without Borders:

“Kenya’s military spokesman Maj. Emmanuel Chirchir blamed an al-Shabab fighter for civilians deaths, saying he drove a truck of ammunition into the camp where it exploded. Chirchir says the air force hit the truck as it drove away from an al-Shabab training camp and it caught fire. He said it proceeded into the camp to use the refugees as a human shield from being bombed again.

Doctors Without Borders, also known as Medecins Sans Frontieres or MSF, said 52 people were wounded, mostly women and children, when an aerial bombardment hit the camp for displaced people in the town of Jilib on Sunday. About 1,500 families had fled to the area amid Somalia’s famine earlier this year.”

Two important issues are emerging here. One is ability of the Kenya Defence Forces to conduct precision operations in civilian areas. That is a difficult task for even the most advanced military. However, failure to minimize civilian impact could fuel a capable al-Shabaab PR machine. I also expect to see increasing tension between NGOs and the greater counterterrorism effort. Neither of these issues will slow the offensive but they could slow the very long term process of bringing some degree stability to the area.

Recommended on Twitter: @MajorEChirchir. Major E. Chirchir. Kenya military spokesman. Not yet confirmed by Twitter but referenced in several media reports about the Major.

NTC Confirms Chemical Weapons Sites in Libya

No details on exactly what was found or where but that’s just fine. Those details really don’t need to be circulating in the media anyway. The news is somewhat encouraging in that the NTC appears to be cooperating closely with the U.S., the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, and others to get this material out of country.

What remains troubling though is the shear magnitude of this problem. Former Secretery of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s famous quote comes to mind:

“There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.”

Weapons proliferation in Libya is all about the “unkown unknowns”. We may have some idea of what is floating around out there, or where it is stored, but in this environment that is not sufficient. Actors of questionable intent continue to roam a country with little official infrastructure in place to secure stored weapons. One lucky find, or succcessful smuggling operation, is all that’s needed to trigger a very serious problem in North Africa or even Europe. Covert attempts to secure weapons and limit smuggling are underway on a scale that I think will prove to be quite large but only time will tell if we’ve done enough.

Recommended on Twitter: @opcw. Official twitter account of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

Is Al-Shabaab Going to Target Canada?

The headlines make a recent taped threat, if it can even be called that, seem quite ominous but don’t expect all hell to break loose in Toronto anytime soon. This is the result of a rant – not a new strategic initiative.

Details from the National Post:

“The English-language message specifically called for terrorist attacks in Canada and said it was a duty for Muslims to fight for Islam, urging listeners not to “just sit around and be a couch potato and just chill all day.”

“My brothers and sisters, do jihad in America, do jihad in Canada, do jihad in England [and] anywhere in Europe, in Asia, in Africa, in China, in Australia – anywhere you find kuffar [infidels],” it says.”

In short, it’s no different than any other martyrdom tape released in the past thirty years. Canada is not, nor will it be anytime soon, a priority target, for al-Shabaab or Islamic terrorists in general.

Recommended on Twitter: @allthingsct. Leah Farrall is an ex-counterterrorism analyst; returned academic type w/ background in IR.