Terror: Nothing left to chance ahead of Obama trip

A US vehicle arrives at the JKIA in Nairobi ahead of President Obama’s visit.

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US drones this week hit Al Shabaab targets in Somalia with devastating effect, eliminating some top commanders of terror in a precision attack that happened barely a week before President Barrack Obama visit to Kenya.

The Americans are leaving nothing to chance and the Al Shaabab militants could be in for a difficult time before and when President Obama touches down in Nairobi on Friday night (July 24).

With him will be the terrorists’ double dream of the perfect target: The American President, and Air Force One, the luxury presidential jet, which is the symbol of America’s power to the rest of the world.

As US President, Obama’s worry will not be on the possibility of an attack on his entourage – he will be in an armoured limousine, surrounded by over two dozen armoured cars, and when he walks out, he will be surrounded by some of the best bodyguards in the world from his Secret Service.

Flying into a territory where the murderous militants have killed over 500 Kenyans, 200 of them within the first half of this year, with 14 Kenyans falling victim just a week ago, Obama’s presence will be a show of defiance – a kind of statement that the terrorists cannot, and should not be allowed to win the war of ideas.

Also, the history in his visit is that it will be the first time a sitting US President will be visiting Kenya to pay the respects of the most powerful government to the souls of the 218 people, majority of them Kenyans, killed as Al Qaeda faced off with the Americans on Kenyan soil back in 1998.

Greater person

Obama already paid his respects when he was senator as he, Michelle and their two daughters visited the August 7, 1998 Memorial Park in downtown Nairobi on August 2006; the US VP Joe Biden and the Secretary of State John Kerry also passed by the park and left a note, but no greater person than the US President will appease the timeless souls of the long-dead Kenyans. To get perspective, Kenya is what Americans call “a frontline State” in the fight against terror. It is a beneficiary of aid from the US government in terms of training, military equipment, surveillance technology and money to help with the counter-terrorism campaigns.

When the US Secretary of State jetted into Nairobi in May, he pledged Sh10 billion pledge (USD100 million) for Kenya for the fight against terror.

“We are assisting Kenya in border security, intelligence sharing, security cooperation, equipment, training of military and security personnel, counter-terrorism strategy and investigations,” he said then after meeting President Uhuru at State House.

The two governments also share intelligence on terror networks.

It is no secret that the US Government works hand-in-glove with the National Intelligence Service – Kenya’s spy agency—and with the Anti-Terror Police Unit in handling all terror suspects. On Thursday (July 16) the US launched a drone strike with its missiles and killed two commanders, who were identified as Ismael Jamhad and Jama Dere. Moments after the drone strike, the Kenya Defence Forces reported that it had killed 51 Al Shabaab militants. It is such strikes on enemy camps that show how Kenya and the US dance in the war against terror.

Kenya is also a strategic partner in the fight against terrorism in the Horn of Africa. The US has spies and a hundreds of soldiers in Kenya, it has the biggest embassy in Africa in Kenya. Kenya hosts over 500,000 refugees from the Al Shabaab’s cradle in war-torn Somalia and Sudan.

When Kenya threatened to kick out the Somali refugees – all 350,000 of them in Daadab refugee complex—it took the intervention of the US Secretary of State John Kerry to fly in, meet President Uhuru Kenyatta and plead with him not to do the forceful repatriation that Deputy President William Ruto suggested.

Kerry gave the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Sh4.5 billion (USD45 million) to cater for refugees’ food, shelter, education, health care, as well as voluntary repatriation to countries of origin, where security permits.

“Success of this strategy depends on building trust among communities and authorities and that includes the Muslim community and Somali refugees. Human rights and rule of law must be upheld in counter terrorism war,” he said.

The threat of terrorism is not lost on Obama – he would know—because his government still has an active travel advisory for US citizens not to travel to some parts of Kenya, including Eastleigh, the suburb in Nairobi, mainly inhabited by people from the Somali ethnic community.

The travel advisory is explicit:

“US citizens in Kenya should be extremely vigilant with regard to their personal security, particularly in crowded public places, such as clubs, hotels, resorts, shopping centers, restaurants, bus stations and places of worship.

“US citizens should use commonsense precautions at all times, to include the following practices: avoid crowded transportation venues; visit only legitimate businesses and tourist areas only during daylight hours; use well-marked taxis and be sure to lock vehicle doors and keep windows up; lock all lodging doors and windows; carry minimal amounts of cash and credit cards; do not wear jewelry which attracts undue attention; know emergency phone numbers; do not resist or antagonize armed criminals; and always be aware of your surroundings,” reads the alert that still displayed on the US Embassy website in Nairobi.

Powerful son

Obama will be following in the footsteps of his Secretary of State to assure Kenya that the US had not abandoned her in the fight against terrorism. He will be fulfilling a pledge he made when Al Shabaab attacked and killed 147 Garissa University College students.

“We will stand hand-in-hand with the Kenyan Government and people against the scourge of terrorism and in their efforts to bring communities together. This much is clear: the future of Kenya will not be defined by violence and terror; it will be shaped by young people like those at Garissa University College – by their talents, their hopes, and their achievements. This is a message I will relay to the Kenyan people when I visit Kenya in July,” he said then. July is here. Nairobi is cold. Kenyans are expectant. Their powerful son is coming home.

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