One month into Kenya’s military offensive against Somalia’s extremist Shebab rebels, attacks have multiplied back home, aid agencies have expressed concern and troops are bogged down in mud.
Kenya, which has traditionally employed non-military means to try to solve two decades of anarchy in neighboring Somalia, deployed forces across the border on October 14.
A series of kidnappings of foreigners on Kenyan soil and incursions by the al-Qaeda-inspired Shebab, who control much of southern Somalia, triggered Kenya's unprecedented offensive.
However, after initially pushing some 100 kilometres (60 miles) into Somalia, the forces have made little progress, fought few ground battles and are yet to attack many of the 10 southern Somali towns they singled out as Shebab strongholds and said they would strike.
The Kenyan army said on October 17 it was advancing on the town of Afmadow, about 150 kilometers (90 miles) from the Kenyan border. Weeks later, they are yet to capture the town as heavy rains have hampered movement.
“Right now we are about 15 kilometers (nine miles) away from Afmadow,” army spokesman Major Emmanuel Chirchir told AFP. “The biggest challenge is that it is raining, it is flooded.”
“It’s been tricky. For effective engagement with al-Shebab we need the rain to subside,” he said, adding that waters were knee-high.
The slow movement could be an advantage to the Shebab, warned former Kenyan army officer Imaana Laibuta.
“It might give the militia enough time to reorganize their defenses and move their finances and other movables to safe havens elsewhere,” said Laibuta, who now runs a security consultancy firm.
“Ensuring a quick and precise surgical incursion into Afmadow and Kismayo will deny the militia the chance to move out most of their facilities,” he added, referring to a key Shebab-held port city.
An air raid by Kenyan forces on a southern Somali town last month killed at least five civilians, aid agencies said. Nairobi denied civilians were killed, pledging a probe nonetheless.
The Shebab accused Kenya of targeting civilians and renewed its vows of revenge.
Meanwhile at home, grenade attacks attributed by police to Shebab operatives have increased, with two blasts rocking Nairobi soon after the operation began and at least six people killed in ambushes in areas along the porous border.
“I think it is clear that the Kenyan invasion of Somalia has raised the risk of attacks within Kenya,” said Laura Hammond of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies.
“Al-Shebab has been clear that they will retaliate, and I would take them at their word on this.”
Kenyans have also questioned their country's incursion after grenade attacks in the capital last month, arguing that security forces should first tackle Shebab sympathizers within Kenya.
While Nairobi’s other motivation for crossing into Somalia was economic ─ to protect its key tourism industry after the abduction and killing of tourists ─ the cost of the offensive will soon begin to bite, analysts warned.
“The cost of the operation is likely to keep increasing with advances and protraction of the situation on the ground,” said a recent report by South Africa's Institute for Security Studies.
“Against a backdrop of recent trends of inflation, rising cost of living and a depreciating Kenyan shilling, the government will have to dip further into its coffers in order to sustain the cost of the military operation.”
The offensive has also complicated humanitarian operations in southern Somalia, where some regions were declared by the United Nations to be facing famine following several months of failed rains.
Kenya’s threat to attack 10 Shebab-held towns in the south has also raised fears of civilian casualties which could further devastate a population already wracked by one of the region's worst droughts in decades.
“There is a definite fear that despite the warnings, any bombing of towns is very likely to bring civilian casualties,” said Oxfam’s Alun McDonald, referring to the Kenyan army’s warning that civilians avoid Shebab camps.
McDonald said some aid organizations had scaled down operations, while locals were unable to flee due to floods and broken bridges.
“They (civilians) are worried about fleeing towns that might see conflict into areas that are already facing conflict, or simply can't move because the floods have cut off roads and left fewer vehicles available,” he said.
“The reports from our partners are that even seeds that have been distributed in the past are not all being planted, as farmers are too afraid to spend too much time in their fields because of the increased military threat.”