Kenya is claiming to have killed over 3,000 al-Shabaab fIslamist ighters in Somalia in one year while losing only 22 soldiers and one helicopter. Or rather the Somali Defense Minister is claiming that on behalf of the Kenyans.
If true, those are some pretty good numbers. The NATO ISAF forces in Afghanistan have erratic policies on enemy body counts so that no true number of Taliban killed is available. General McChrystal suspended body counts completely because they were no longer meant to be a metric of success. Petraeus on occasion brought them back.
In a departure from past practice, U.S. and Afghan commanders released data that showed they had killed 2,448 insurgents over the past eight months – a 55 percent increase from the same period last year.
As we can see from the Kenyan deployment in Somalia, those aren’t really worth bragging about. During those same periods in Afghanistan, NATO/ISAF fatalities ranged somewhere in the 400-500 range. Trading the lives of highly trained and valued First World soldiers against desert fighters at a 1/5 ratio when the firepower on the US side is vastly superior is not a good exchange. Those aren’t Tet Offensive numbers, but they’re bad enough.
The Kenyan military isn’t within spitting distance of the United States. The difference lies in the rules of engagement. In Somalia, Kenyan forces have casually bombed targets unmindful of civilian casualties. Meanwhile US forces are routinely denied air support and permission to engage enemy fighters.
Kenyan soldiers do not have to worry about being court martialed if they fire first. They don’t have to worry about being told to retreat or hide because their lives are worth less than winning the hearts and minds of the locals.
The United States crushed the Taliban initially with the ruthless use of force. And then wasted that victory by trying to patrol and secure the country on the ground. The Surge was a waste of manpower because it sent soldiers with little protection to confront a disposable morass of enemy fighters. And the outcome was completely predictable.
The Taliban were driven out of power with a handful of casualties. As the Rules of Engagement tightened, US casualties increased and defeat became inevitable. Kenyan forces are able to do in Somalia what American forces are not longer allowed to do in Afghanistan.
But there is a final irony to the whole affair. The Prime Minister of Kenya, Raila Odingo, is a cousin of Barack Obama.