Articles

The ghastly attack in Kenya proves an important point about terrorist groups


The April 2 attack in Garissa, Kenya, was the deadliest and most heinous atrocity the Somali terrorist group Al Shabaab has ever committed.

Gunmen from Al Qaeda's affiliate in the Horn of Africa stormed a university campus in the city, killing 147 people after an hours-long siege. It's the deadliest terrorist attack in Kenya since the 1998 Al Qaeda bombing of the US embassy in Nairobi in which 224 people were killed.

The terrorist attack demonstrates an ongoing security threat in one of the most stable and prosperous countries in sub-Saharan Africa — and it shows how jihadist groups can remain dangerous even as they lose territory and leadership.

Garissa is a mid-sized city 230 miles from Nairobi and a little over 60 miles from Dadaab, the former desert rest stop that's now home to the world's largest refugee camp.

On Twitter, Colby College political science professor Laura Seay noted the extraordinary sacrifice it requires for a family to even send someone to college in a place so much closer to Kenya's arid and impoverished eastern desert frontier than it is to just about any of its major cities.

"Today's loss is immeasurable," she tweeted.

Al Shabaab didn't just choose the softest of targets; it attacked a place where it could wipe out as many young, promising, and educated people as it possibly could.

In the Westgate Mall attack in September of 2013, Shabaab struck at the heart of Kenyan business and trade, attacking Nairobi's famed status as east Africa's cosmopolitan crossroads. The Garissa attack was even deadlier and perhaps even grimmer in its messaging. Shabaab struck Kenyan society where they knew it would hurt the most.

The Garissa attack is shocking for yet another reason. Al Shabaab has repeatedly struck outside of its safe haven in southern Somalia over the past year, carrying out a series of gun attacks around the coastal town of Mpeketoni, Kenya, that killed over 60 people during the summer of 2014.

It's retained its external attack capabilities and command structure despite suffering what would seem to be a series of debilitating setbacks. In January, the former head of Shabaab internal intelligence, who had earlier surrendered himself to Somali authorities, publicly denounced terrorism and urged his former colleagues to lay down their arms.

A September 2014 drone strike killed Ahmed Godane, Shabaab's domineering leader and one of the most-wanted terrorists in Africa. Another drone strike on March 18 killed Adnan Garaar, the head of Shabaab's external operations and the mastermind of the Westgate attack.

But Shabaab has forged a new model for how declining terrorist groups can remain dangerous, as analyst Clint Watts argued in a World Politics Review article published just before the Garissa massacre.

Shabaab has done nothing but splinter, vacate territory, and lose top leadership since ruling over most of Somalia and nearly all of its capital, Mogadishu, in 2010. Even so, Watts observes that "a sizeable military coalition is still fighting in the Horn of Africa more than four years after the group's zenith," a reference to an ongoing African Union military mission in Somalia in which Kenya is a longtime participant.

Shabaab has kept itself intact by retreating into the southern Somali wilderness and refocusing its efforts around large-scale attacks rather than holding or governing massive swaths of territory. Just a week before the Garissa attack, Shabaab killed over 20 people during a raid on a hotel in Mogadishu, including a Somali diplomat.

Even after years of decline, Shabaab has a remote safe haven that's preserved its ability to pull off large-scale attacks in multiple countries in consecutive weeks.

More worrying is Shabaab's deep network in neighboring Kenya, which is home to a sizable Somali minority as well as refugees from Somalia's devastating famine, which had killed over a quarter-million people by 2013 and was greatly exacerbated by Shabaab's refusal to allow aid groups into areas it controlled.

As Caroline Hellyer wrote for Al Jazeera two weeks before the Garissa attack, Shabaab's relationship with a "hardline underground group" called al-Hijra gives it a ready-made network in Kenya and Tanzania, allowing it to recruit extremist elements well beyond Somalia.

One grim upshot of the Garissa attack is that it demonstrates Shabaab's broad operational capabilities in Kenya, East Africa's cultural, economic, and political leader and a US strategic ally. The region doesn't have to deal with a Shabaab-ruled Somalia — but it may have swapped that problem for a Shabaab that has even greater ambitions to strike outside of its diminished Somali safe haven.

More from Business Insider:

This article originally appeared at Business Insider Defense Copyright 2015. Follow BI Defense on Twitter.

GEAR & TECH

The F-35 has a fatal flaw that makes it vulnerable to F-22 tech

Lockheed Martin, the leading manufacturer of stealth aircraft in the world, proposed a new hybrid between the F-22 Raptor and the F-35 Lightning on April 22, 2018, for Japan to purchase, and it could easily outclass the US Air Force.

Japan has, for decades, wanted in on the US Air Force's F-22, a long-range, high-capacity stealth fighter that perfectly suits its defense needs, except for one problem — the US won't sell it.

Keep reading... Show less
Articles

How R. Lee Ermey's Hollywood break is an inspiration to us all

While there have been many outstanding actors and celebrities who have raised their right hand, there has never been a veteran who could finger point his way to the top of Hollywood stardom quite like the late great Gunnery Sergeant R. Lee Ermey.

Keep reading... Show less
Entertainment

5 of the best 'Schoolhouse Rock!' songs by the jazz legend and veteran who just died

Bob Dorough, the musical keystone of 'Schoolhouse Rock!,' got his start in the Army.

Bob Dorough was a prolific bebop and jazz musician whose popularity and talent earned him spots as a sideman alongside the likes of John Zorn and Miles Davis. But the talented jazzman got his start in music as a pianist, clarinetist, saxophonist, and arranger for the U.S. Army's Special Services Band toward the end of World War II.

He died in Pennsylvania on April 23, 2018, at age 94, NPR reports.

Keep reading... Show less
GEAR & TECH

Lockheed's new laser-guided bomb lives up to its name

Laser-guided bombs have been a mainstay of the United States military for almost 50 years, but they're not without their downsides. Yes, they provide great accuracy, but you need to keep the target painted for maximum effect and bad weather makes laser-guidance less reliable.

Additionally, many laser-guided bombs currently in use, like the Paveway II, have a relatively short range and must be used at high altitude, meaning the plane can't hide from radar. With improved defense systems out there, like the Russian Pantsir, keeping a target painted at close range may spell disaster for a pilot.

Keep reading... Show less

The AF Chief of Staff lays out why space dominance matters

Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. David L. Goldfein emphasized the essential role airmen have when it comes to space superiority during the 34th Space Symposium, April 17, 2018, in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

"Our space specialists must be world-class experts in their domain," said Goldfein. "But, every airman, beyond the space specialty, must understand the business of space superiority. And, we must also have a working knowledge of ground maneuver and maritime operations if we are to integrate air, space and cyber operations in a truly seamless joint campaign."

Keep reading... Show less

6 exercises every infantryman needs to master

Serving in the infantry comes with its fair share of hardships, both mental and physical. Rigorous schedules, deployment cycles, and long training hours can be taxing on anyone. Such a demanding lifestyle requires that you be physically fit. After all, your strength and endurance may be the reasons you survive that next, intense firefight.

Now, having served time in the infantry, it's easy for us to look back and see the things we wish we had known before loading that heavy pack on our backs and going on patrol. Invariably, veterans will tell you that they wish they had pushed themselves harder during those long PT sessions.

Keep reading... Show less

Behind the scenes of the Trump-Macron bromance

French president Emmanuel Macron arrived April 23, 2018, as the first world leader President Donald Trump invited for a state visit.

Friendship bloomed between the two leaders in the year since Macron's election victory, including dinner at the Eiffel Tower, an epic handshake battle, and publicly gushing about each other.

Keep reading... Show less
Military Life

6 things not to do while getting an Article 15

For better or worse, non-judicial punishment (NJP) is exactly what the name implies. As authorized by Article 15 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, a commander may discipline their troop without the need for a court-martial.

On the one hand, a commander is keeping things at the lowest level possible and punishments can only be so extreme (depending on the type of NJP, of course). On the other, due process is sidestepped and the judge, jury, and executioner is a single person.

Keep reading... Show less