Jihadis Attack Kenyan Shopping Mall

ss-130921-kenya-attack-tease-300x225Over the past few days, jihadi terrorists have attacked a shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya, killing dozens and injuring hundreds. Even as this is posted, the Kenyan security forces have yet to declare complete victory in the Battle of the Westgate Shopping Mall. The attack illustrates a simple principle of asymmetric conflict: the good guys must succeed every time, while the bad guys need only succeed on occasion. That requires a very different mindset than does more traditional forms of warfare. The approaches must be tailored to the capacities of the society, its nature, and its target profile. What works in one place may not work in another, and that requires a great deal of imagination from the strategists. Yet, somethings are universal.

First and foremost, Kenya is still a developing country. It does not have much wealth to spend on the kind of counter-terrorist geegaws that form so much of America’s response to the Salafi threat. Next, Kenya is a diverse nation of around 30 different ethnic groups and has a recent history of electoral violence among those groups. Any response must ensure the cohesion of the Kenyan peoples. Third, Kenya has stuck its neck out in Somalia, where it intervened to bring something resembling order. The extent to which it succeeded is irrelevant. What matters is that Kenya made enemies when it acted as it did. At the same time, it made allies in Somalia who must be kept friendly.

Kenya has responded to attacks prior to this one with heightened security. Americans are inconvenienced at the airports with security. Kenya’s buildings in general have security checks, even its churches. But people can make mistakes, and some people can be bought. A little money here or there, and bad things can happen.

That is not to say that the current attack could have been prevented by a bit more vigilance at the mall’s entrance. The truth is that 15 trained fighters carrying hand grenades and AK-47s are not that easy to stop. And given the long porous border with Somalia, keeping the guns and bombs out of the hands of those who would do damage to civilization is well nigh impossible.

article-2428614-18263E1A00000578-668_964x654-300x203Instead, Kenya’s multiple security agencies need to cooperate better before an attack (it seems they managed pretty well once this one had blossomed). As ever, intelligence gathering is vital; it’s the ounce of prevention. And Kenya has proved itself to be good ally to other states targeted by the forces of ignorance posing as Muslims. Better cooperation with the US and regional powers, plus some technological help from abroad, will improve the situation. The US already gives quite a bit to Nairobi, perhaps more is in order, and perhaps spending more wisely is possible.

Above all, President Uhuru Kenyatta (who lost a relative in the attack) needs to find a way to keep the Kenyan people’s anger channeled into constructive areas. It is the difference between being a statesman and being a mere politician.

He would do well to study the actions of George W. Bush when he arrived in New York a few days after the Al Qaeda murders of September 11, 2001. Mr. Bush remains, in this journal’s opinion, the worst American president in history, but he found a way to get America out of its shock and into action. He stood near the still-burning Pile, and when someone complained that they couldn’t hear him, he answered through a bullhorn, “I can hear you! The rest of the world hears you! And the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon!” That he misused the unity and hope he created is a different matter.

The matter is a simple one. Mr. Kenyatta must lead, and he must find a Kenyan solution. This journal stands behind him.