On the record Americans in Washington and a key American who is not identified by name or specific agency tell most of the story about the development of the US-Kenyan counterterrorism relationship since the 1998 embassy bombing in a two part series from “UK Declassified”.
Particular focus is on the establishment and operation by the Kenyan police paramilitary General Services Unit (GSU) of a special previously secret CIA-supported unit dedicated to capture and render, if not kill in some situations, high value terrorist targets.
This unit was set up under the Kibaki Administration in 2004 and been kept out of the open source media since.
I cannot imagine that the substance of the story is especially surprising to anyone. In a way it’s a story of the interlocking of two bureaucracies and the making of “alphabet soup”. Whereas most Americans paying attention from outside specific national security roles and most Kenyans would have assumed that the counterterrorism operations discussed involved the ATPU (Anti-Terrorism Police Unit) branch of the Kenya Police Service, as discussed, it turns out they involved the GSU branch. On the American side the bureaucratic distinction is that we have been using in this GSU-support role the CIA, a stand alone branch of the Intelligence Community, rather than one of the units under the military command structure.
The fact that some mistakes would be made and “collateral damage” (such as raiding the wrong house and killing the wrong person) incurred in any Kenya Police Service paramilitary operation is hardly surprising. To the contrary it would be foolish not to expect it and my guess would be that the seeming lower volume or rate of errors in these operations compared to what we see from the GSU and the Kenyan Police Service overall has something to do with the involvement of the CIA.
More generally, however, the thing that I was aware of and concerned about as a temporary duty democracy assistance American NGO worker during the 2007 Kenyan election cycle was that these type of counterterrorism tactics–regardless of the letters in the “alphabet soup” or which utensil used to eat it–caused genuine fear among Kenyan citizens and potential voters.
The highest profile use by the Kibaki Administration of the GSU during my time with the International Republican Institute was the deployment of paramilitary troops to form a perimeter sealing off Uhuru Park in Nairobi in the early weeks of 2008 to prevent protests against Kibaki’s disputed swearing in for a second term from accessing the symbolically important venue. (Contra events ten years later for Raila Odinga’s “people’s president” mock swearing in.). See “Were Americans right to be so fearful of Odinga’s ‘People’s President’ swearing in?“, January 31, 2018.
It seems conventional that you would have some general comment from former Ambassadors Bellamy and Ranneberger for the article on counterterrorism but unusual to have the amount of discussion from the CIA side. I have thoughts about why people spoke up now but they are speculative so I will keep them to myself for the time being. Regardless, it is vitally important that Americans and Kenyans learn from experience, including trial-and-error in facing the challenges of terrorism in the context of laws and policies that place hope in democracy, democratization and the rule of law. So I appreciate the move towards increasing public information both from press and those interviewed.
Conspicuously absent though is any reference to the December 2006 Ethiopian invasion of Somalia with US support to displace the Islamic Courts Union from Mogadishu and restore the Transitional Federal Government with related operations by the Kenyan military. This kicked-off the current round of the ongoing war in Somalia, gave rise to the separation of al-Shabaab as an al-Queda affiliate operating a territory-controlling jihadist insurgency in Somalia as well as operator of persistent regional terrorist attacks over the years.
See my post from June, 2018 and articles and posts discussed therein for U.S. support for the 2006 Ethiopian invasion, Kenyan engagement, and the consequences: