Terrorism and Kenya military effectiveness

April 3, 2015

Following public debates about how to best tackle terrorism in Kenya, authorities have recently stated that it is perfectly normal for the Kenya Defense Forces(KDF) to engage in fighting terrorism which was not only mandated by law, but also apparently by other countries that are doing the same thing.Although his last point may seem bizarre to some, pundits argue that as long as proper specific regulations are issued and there is close public scrutiny, the KDF could play a role in combating terrorism.However, these arguments overlook the potential long-term detrimental effect of fighting terrorism which in Kenyan case is historically regionally despite of its global links to our military effectiveness. A military researcher in the East African region I recently spoke to argues that, in the absence of the ultimate test of battle, a highly effective Kenya military should possess high levels of integration, skill, responsiveness, and quality – all of which are determined by specific activities that the military plans and executes, such as strategic assessment, officer promotion, or force development.In this respect, fighting domestic terror could harm the KDF’s long-term effectiveness by, first, eventually inducing institutional confusion and decreasing the level of integration the degree of internally-consistent and mutually reinforcing activities within the strategic, doctrinal, operational, and tactical levels. For the KDF, such confusions might arise when Kenya spend finite resources and investment in refocusing its military for counter-terrorism at a time when the state of country’s military readiness is decaying rapidly and regional tensions are increasing.

Furthermore, when Kenya strategic outlook continues to be underpinned by a Defense System presuming an inferiority in facing conventional aggression, would counter-terrorism not further conflate strategic guidance with operational practices and entrench what military researchers calls a “weak state” strategic culture that hinders modernization efforts.Kenya’s “war against terror”, as a rule of thumb, usually lack a clearly defined strategic objective without which, strategic assessment and defense planning will always be elusive. For example, how do Kenyans know their country is winning the war on terror? Is it when the entire Al-Shabaab terror network is dismantled, or is it when radical ideologies are gone in north Eastern and Coastal regions of the country.If however Kenya strategically aim to comprehensively counter terrorism, which would entail inter alia countering radical ideologies in places like Mombasa, Malindi, Lamu, Kilifi, Kwale and Tana River in the Coast,Isiolo, Mandera, Wajir, Moyale and Garissa in the north Eastern region of the country then eventually, the military would have to address the local social, economic, and political grievances that provide the “breeding ground” for such radicalism. One consequence of this operational need is that the military would not need to be involved, directly or indirectly, in local issues.

When Kenya military officers exercise functions that are not their primary tasks as witnessed in Garissa University and Westgate mall before, then as a result, the country’s military ability to respond efficiently and effectively to change regional and global threats, to generate high levels of skill and morale, and to efficiently provide highly capable weapons, would gradually diminish let alone the fact that militaries could develop a tendency to be fractured along local fault lines of conflict when locked in local issues.Eventually, less attention will be given to improving military skill and quality while troop morale would also be low.No doubt, reorienting Kenya military’s focus to counter-terrorism could likely exacerbate inter-agency tensions as reported during the Westgate Mall attack in Nairobi and over-burden the military.Considering the “uneasy truce” between the police and military as noted by Kenya’s leading Tv station Kenya Television Network (KTN) investigative journalists Mohammed Ali and John Allen Namu, in the aftermath of Westgate attack and the fact that the details surrounding their institutional relations have not been fully regulated, can Kenyans be sure that reorienting the military to fight terror would not create unnecessary “turf wars”?

In addition, when finite resources are eventually diverted away from the police, hindering their overall effectiveness in handling internal security which oversees not only terrorism, but also other social disturbances and even separatisms,wouldn’t the military then “need” to take over some of those functions?If so, wouldn’t this give the Kenya military less time and leeway to improve training, modernize hardware, and further develop skill and quality to respond effectively to regional and global threats all of which were the stated goals of separating the two entities in colonial era?In my thinking, fighting terror would, at best, disrupt KDF’s force development that is geared to reach a minimum essential force, and to subsequently develop sufficient capacity to join the likes of African Union Military initiatives.When it comes to military hardware, a domestically-oriented military fighting terrorism might eventually prefer to invest in troops and human Intelligence, rather than high-tech weaponry.This would further halt Kenya military modernization and continue to suffocate the country’s domestic defense industry.

On the software side, Kenya military modernization and innovation will require highly-educated officers with forward-thinking mindsets and a good international network to widen the country’s defense relations.A domestically-oriented military fighting terror however would instead strengthen conservative views within the high-command and prefer officers with elite special paramilitary unit Recce squad which Kenyans have been praising on social media for its 12 minutes effective mission at the Garissa University attack or Intelligence credentials at National Intelligence Service who spent most of their careers domestically.If Kenya military’s hardware and software are gradually decreasing, then the overall skill, quality, and responsiveness would decline as well.Thus, if Kenya main strategic challenges are to face potential foes that are increasingly sophisticated, to safeguard it maritime security, to deter foreign groups or militaries from making incursions, to help disaster relief and management, and increase Kenya’s global peacekeeping operations, then it is doubtful that Kenya could address them by refocusing its military to tackle domestic terrorism.

Contador Harrison