NAIROBI, Kenya — Somalia’s president Monday criticized Kenya’s military offensive into his nation to root out Islamist rebels, raising questions about how bilateral the military action is.
“There are things we see as inappropriate,” President Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed said during a tour of a Mogadishu neighborhood, “such as Kenyan troops crossing the border into Somalia.”
Kenya sent hundreds of soldiers, backed by tanks and aircraft, into Somalia this month to fight al-Shabab, ruthless Islamists who control parts of the country. Kenya has said the purpose of the operation is to support Somalia’s government, which has been battling al-Shabab with limited success for years, and that it plans to stay in Somalia until the threat of the insurgents has been “reduced.”
Al-Shabab has threatened to retaliate against Kenya for the offensive, much as it struck Uganda last year for sending peacekeepers to Somalia. Two separate grenades went off in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, on Monday — killing one person and wounding well more than a dozen — though officials were not yet prepared to blame al-Shabab.
Somalia and Kenya signed a joint communique on Oct. 18 calling for “decisive action” against al-Shabab, who have pledged allegiance to al-Qaida, cut off food aid during a famine this year in Somalia and killed many civilians in bombings and other attacks in the past.
But Sharif’s comments Monday suggested that the two countries might not agree on the Kenyan incursion.
A Kenyan government spokesman and military spokesman did not return calls Monday. A Somali government spokesman, echoing Sharif’s sentiments, said while Somalia welcomed assistance from Kenya, the Somali government’s territorial sovereignty must be ensured.
Already, the battle against al-Shabab is widening, with the Kenyan military on Sunday announcing that a French naval ship had bombarded a city to the south of Kismayu, a major seaport and stronghold of al-Shabab.
A French official in Paris on Monday denied the statement, but he said France would be sending equipment and logistical support to Kenya in its operation.
“It will start either this afternoon or tomorrow,” said Thierry Burkhard, a French military spokesman.
On Sunday, the U.S. ambassador to Kenya, Scott Gration, indicated that the United States might also help in the operation.