Al-Shabab’s attack on Kenya’s Westgate

One of the “worst attacks in Kenya’s history” came to an end on Tuesday — four days after members of the al-Shabab terrorist group stormed Westgate, a high-end shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya on Saturday afternoon. According to a senior Kenyan police officer, the mall was secure, with just “mop-up operations” continuing. Five of the attackers are dead and 11 were taken into custody.

To date, 67 people have been reported killed, including six soldiers. The Red Cross reports that 51 people are still missing.

Below is a compilation of some of the remarks, resources and analysis that emerged in response to the attacks.

Backgrounders on the Somali terrorist group, al-Shabab:

  • “Somalia’s Al-Shabab: 4 Things to Know,” from NPR.
  • “10 things to know about Somalia’s militant group al-Shabab,” from the Associated Press.

U.S. Government responses:

  • “I want to express personally my condolences to not only President Kenyatta, who lost some family members in the attack, but to the Kenyan people.  We stand with them against this terrible outrage that’s occurred.  We will provide them with whatever law enforcement support that is necessary.  And we are confident that Kenya, which has been a pillar of stability in Eastern Africa, will rebuild.” President Barack Obama, Bilateral Meeting with President Goodluck Jonathan
  • “We are in active consultation with Kenya … to determine how we might be able to support [local forces].” George Little, Press Secretary, Department of Defense, The Hill
  • “Al-Shabaab is precisely the type of issue that we are increasingly confronted with. As al Qaeda core is degraded in Afghanistan and Pakistan, we see affiliates take root in different parts of the world. “

“The fact of the matter is we’ve actually had a very aggressive effort to go after al-Shabaab in Somalia, both through direct U.S. counterterrorism efforts, but also through support for AMISOM, the international force, including Kenya, that has pushed al-Shabaab out of a number of its strongholds in Somalia. And, frankly, I think it was that pressure on al-Shabaab that, in terms of their own professed motivation, led them to pursue an attack against Kenya.” Ben Rhodes, Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications, 09/23/2013

  • The U.S. government is contributing “technical support and some equipment to assist Kenyan security forces” in responding to the attack.

Unnamed State Department official, Washington Post

  • “What we’re witnessing is Al Shabab taking its asymmetric attacks into Kenya at the same time it’s intensifying its pattern of attacks in Somalia,” Unnamed senior U.S. official, New York Times
  • “Al-Shabab’s operational arm may be benefiting from additional resources now that the group is less preoccupied with governance… It’s really too early to say if al-Shabab’s latest attack is the beginning of a broader campaign in Kenya or a desperate attempt to compel Nairobi to withdraw its troops from Somalia.” Unnamed senior U.S. official, Washington Post
  • “[Al-Shabab] is in much worse shape than they were a couple years ago… This may very well be an effort to send a message to the rest of the world that they’re still around, still violent. I think it also is an indication they fear for their survival if the [African Union] continues to press its campaign against them in Somalia.” Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), member of the House Intelligence Committee, Washington Post
  • “We know there’s probably still 15-20 Somali Americans who are still active over there. The concern would be if any of them have come back to the United States and would use those abilities here in the United States” Rep. Peter T. King (R-N.Y., Washington Post

U.S. security presence in the region

Al-Shabab made it clear the attack was in “retribution” for Kenya’s involvement in the fight against al-Shabab in Somalia. Already, Republican lawmakers and former U.S. counterterrorism officials are calling for the U.S.  “to ramp up counterterrorism action against al-Shabab in Somalia.”

As the Washington Post pointed out, the U.S. is also deeply involved in the fight against al-Shabab: It “has spent more than $1 billion in the past several years to back security and nation-building efforts in Somalia [and] has a big stake in Kenya’s continued commitment to counterterrorism. The Obama administration … has carried out drone strikes and other special forces operations in Somalia.”

The United States’ efforts include “training the Kenyan military to help pursue radical Islamic groups.” At least 150 U.S. military personnel are currently in Kenya, including trainers. According to National Security Council Spokesman Jonathan Lalley,

 It’s not a question of either direct action or playing a supporting role… Our approach has been to work to enable and support African partners… The U.S. military has also taken direct action in Somalia against members of al-Qaeda — some of them members of al-Shabaab — engaged in efforts to carry out terrorist attacks against the United States and U.S. interests

Other analysis

  • Foreign Policy and the Globe & Mail argue that such an asymmetrical terror attack is an indication that al-Shabab’s power is waning. Instead of attacking the Kenyan troops, al Shabab had to find soft civilian targets.
  • Foreign Policy, in a different piece, contends that the attack is a sign that “the Islamist extremism that has long ravaged the Middle East has taken root in Africa as well, causing chaos and bloodshed across a broad swath of the continent.”
  • The Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal make the case that the audacity and sophistication of the attack will cause the U.S. to reevaluate its threat assessment of al-Shabab.
  • U.S. News makes the case that the attack indicates the need for increased U.S. aid, including non-military aid to the region. The article quotes J. Peter Pham, the director of the Atlantic Council’s Africa Center, as warning against an over-militarized response: “Future assistance to Kenya and other African countries will need to include a broader menu than just military aid.”

One comment

  1. […] The Somali terrorist organization al-Shabab attacked a high-end shopping mall in Nairobi, the Westgate, and killed 67 people, including six soldiers. Five of the attackers are dead and 11 were taken into custody. U.S., British and Israeli agencies are supporting the investigation into the Westgate attack. 61 people remain missing, and according to the New York Times, the Kenyan government has not fully answered outstanding questions about crucial matters, among them whether all terrorists have been apprehended. On Wednesday and Thursday, militants suspected to be al-Shabab attacked two Kenyan towns near the Somali border, in a sign that Kenya may endure more instability.  According to Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, who was in the United States at the time of the attacks, “Al-Shabab is more of an international problem than a Somali problem. It can happen here in the United States as it is now happening in Nairobi.”  The New York Times, The Hill, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Washington Times, and U.S. News each explored implications that the al-Shabab Westgate attack may have on U.S. policy. For a more thorough roundup, please read our blog. […]

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