I asked whether he trusted the Somalis. "We have no choice," he said. It's well-known to the troops here that Ras Kamboni's leader, Sheikh Ahmed Madobe, was a high-ranking administrator in al-Shabab before turning against them. Indeed, Ras Kamboni was an Islamist insurgency before al-Shabab was even created. Many families in the area have members in al-Shabab and others in Ras Kamboni or the Somali army. The Kenyans suspect they tip one another off about operations. But there's little he can do about it, the Kenyan soldier said. "Now we are brothers."
Some Ras Kamboni fighters have been tasked with guarding the villages around Kismayo, where they live among the population. Others man the airport terminal. They stand out starkly from the KDF troops. They wear tattered solid-green fatigues and have no body armor, helmets, or, often, boots -- they've grown used to facing al-Shabab head-on in sandals, with old single-shot rifles. In the terminal, whose halls smell of urine and excrement, they sleep on blankets on the floor beside walls decorated with graffiti left by al-Shabab. One picture shows an al-Shabab technical shooting at a helicopter. It looks like a child's rendering of a scene from Black Hawk Down, and indeed it may be. Al-Shabab reportedly recruited children from Kismayo to put on the front line. (And the 1993 episode has become part of the national mythos.)
Ras Kamboni and the Somali national troops have been accused of mistreating Somalis. So has the KDF. So far, Kenya has refused to allow human rights investigators into the places under its control; nonetheless, Human Rights Watch has advised Somali refugees in Kenya who fled the fighting to not return yet, because they may face abuse by the KDF.
This is precisely what President Kibaki wanted to avoid. Perhaps for that reason, after taking Kismayo, Kenya has cooled its heels. Hassan spends most of his time these days sitting in a hut near his tent sipping tea and speaking on a cell phone. The KDF soldiers appear to be mostly concerned with keeping a neat camp. One day, I watched a group of them sweep a runway -- for two hours. I asked how they liked life during wartime. "I've been here for six months," one soldier said. "Can you find me an American wife?"
It's generally assumed that success in Somalia, particularly in the south, depends on the ability of the African Union and the new Somali president, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, to help the country's desperate population as quickly as possible. They're already behind. Despite a budget that will approach $800 million this year, AMISOM has only just begun to think about planning for the peace -- in part because it thought the fighting would drag on much longer. "They never expected to win this fast. They thought they'd have time to figure out the civilian component," says Alex Rondos, the EU special representative to the Horn of Africa. "They're victims of their own success."
When Linda Nchi began last year, an editorial in the Daily Nation, Kenya's leading newspaper, pointed out that after troops captured territory, "Kenya's biggest challenge is to prosecute an effective counter-insurgency campaign to degrade Al-Shabaab." Everyone I spoke with, from AMISOM officials to diplomats, agreed with that analysis. They also agreed that al-Shabab is probably not in retreat from southern Somalia so much as it's in retrenchment. With contributions from the Somali diaspora drying up thanks to its growing unpopularity, al-Shabab knew, long before the KDF reached Kismayo, that it didn't have the manpower or money to face a conventional army. So its fighters have blended into the population, where they are recruiting young freelance assassins and waiting to see what AMISOM does next. Al-Shabab fighters have studied the Taliban and Iraqi insurgencies, and in some cases contributed to them. "Shabab has been preparing for this onslaught for a long time. They've been preparing to sink in, to make the leadership mobile," an intelligence analyst involved in operations against al-Shabab told me. "Time is not on our side."
Yet neither AMISOM nor the KDF appears to have a long-term counterinsurgency strategy. One possible reason for this is that senior officials in the new Somali administration and AMISOM are involved in negotiations with al-Shabab to disarm. Another, more obvious, reason is that Kenya has no experience in counterinsurgency (its Anti-Terrorism Police Unit investigates al-Shabab affiliates in Kenya). But probably the most important reason is that Kenya doesn't want to get embroiled in a guerrilla war like the one in Mogadishu. "We're seeing a caution about going beyond areas they can control," one diplomat said.
At the same time, Kenya is attempting to demonstrate, with a pitiable lack of subtlety, its allegiance to Ras Kamboni and other powerful elements in the south that are suspicious of Mogadishu and President Mohamud's centralizing tendencies. Last week, Mohamud and a Somali delegation were supposed to have met with Kenyan officials in Nairobi. The day of their flight, Kenya informed them they'd be denied entrance.
At the airport camp, Hassan said that his mission now is to "mop up" al-Shabab holdouts. But when I asked whether he had men collecting intelligence among the population, he said that was being left to Ras Kamboni. I asked on two occasions whether he was conducting regular patrols. The first time he said no. The second time he said yes, but admitted that they were mostly meant to secure the airport. Asked whether he was conducting systematic house raids or attempting any other standard counterinsurgency measures, Hassan offered: "We've cordoned villages." I asked how many. "Two," he said.
When I asked why, in the two months since the KDF took Kismayo, no local al-Shabab higher-ups had been captured, even though they are all personally known to Sheikh Madobe and others in the area, he said, "I don't know. That's a question for the international community." He added, "I'm only doing what I've been told to do."