Terrible as it was, Alshabaab murderous attack on Garissa University in Kenya was not completely a surprise. The Islamist terrorist group has lost much territory in Somalia in recent years to African Union Mission in Somalia. Driven from strongholds it once planned to use as the backbone of its caliphate, Alshabaab has fallen back on small-unit terrorist attacks in both Somalia and Kenya. Garissa is the latest and deadliest example.
Alshabaab terror group has multiple objectives. It is first of all meant to drive Kenyan forces out of Somalia. There is no sign thus far that this gambit is working. President Kenyatta has publicly shown his determination to stay in Somalia until the job there is done.
Another Alshabaab goal is to divide and split Kenyan religious and ethnic communities against each other. Separating Muslims from Christians, as was done in Garissa, has been an Alshabaab tactic since the Westgate Mall siege in 2013. After Westgate, Al Shabaab targeted non-Muslims and certain ethnic groups in a wave of bus hijackings and attacks on villages and worksites across northeast Kenya. The Alshabaab massacre at Mpeketoni in Kenyan coast in 2014 focused on a certain community that had been settled generations ago on land perceived by the terror as taken from local.
Thus far, this strategy of driving wedges has also largely failed. Following the Garissa massacre, Kenyans of all religious and ethnic backgrounds, to their great credit, again closed ranks to denounce Al Shabaab’s terror.
A third al Shabaab goal is to provoke harsh overreactions by the Kenyan government and its security services. If Kenya marginalized Muslim communities bear the brunt of this overreaction, as Al Shabaab no doubt calculates, sympathy and new recruits for the terror group could materialize. Recent trends suggest this initiative may prove more successful.
Once bitten twice shy, since then through the Kenya National Security Advisory Committee Kenya has opened Modika Military barracks in Garissa and several other Forward Operating Bases for specialized units in the porous and terror prone areas. This has significantly reduced Alshabaab attacks in the North Eastern part of Kenya.
Kenya has fought terror through initiating community based anti-Violent extremist campaigns. This has reduced the number of recruits who used to join the terror group yearly.
Road blocks and road checks have helped in thwarting planned Alshabaab attacks by identifying the terror group members a good example being the Merti incidence in Isiolo County where terror suspects who were on a mission to accomplish a big terror attack where nabbed.