In the wake of the deadly terrorist attack at Garissa University College in Kenya on Thursday, some have questioned whether global intelligence and military forces are doing enough to combat what is seen as a growing source of instability. On Friday, those fears were finally addressed: In a daily press briefing, State Department spokesperson Marie Harf indicated that U.S. officials were concerned about the "very serious threat" posed by the militant Islamist group al Shabab and the possibility of another attack in the region. With U.S. resources and attention divided around the world stage, the idea wasn't completely inconceivable.
"Our embassy has been in touch with Kenyan officials, including their security services, in the wake of this attack and is providing assistance," said Harf during Friday's briefing. "Kenya is a partner in the fight against terrorism, and we work with them very closely ... Al-Shabaab is a very serious threat and ... a tough challenge for the Kenyans."
Harf indicated that U.S. officials were providing "a range of security assistance, including training and equipment, to many key Kenyan military and law enforcement units," but that it would take serious sit-downs with the government in order to discern how to best assist the East African country.
During Thursday's attack, "heavily armed" al Shabab gunmen entered the Garissa University campus and began shooting indiscriminately at first, and then began targeting Christian students specifically. "It was horrible, there was shooting everywhere," recalled student Augustine Alanga in an interview with the BBC.
By 5 p.m. ET, Kenyan officials surveying the human damage had confirmed that the death toll remained at 147; all 500 surviving students had been accounted for with 79 requiring medical attention for their injuries. In a news conference on Thursday afternoon, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta lamented the lack of security necessary to fight off militant attacks such as the one carried out at Garissa University.
"We have suffered unnecessarily due to shortage of security personnel," said Kenyatta, indicating further that government authorities had encouraged local police to start training new recruits appropriately as soon as possible.
Horn of Africa analyst Rashid Abdi suggested in a comment to The Guardian that prior intelligence should have alarmed authorities enough to ramp up security and called the deadly attack "utterly inexcusable."
"It has been obvious for some time that al-Shabaab has been going for soft targets and this university was an obvious possible target," said Abdi. "Al-Shabaab has consistently attacked non-Muslims who are not of Somali ethnicity in the region and it really is criminal that there were only two guards at the hostels."
Although a U.S. drone strike in southern Somalia on March 18 took out al Shabab leader Adnan Garaar, Pentagon officials reported that the group was struggling to regain its footing, but still very present. In a comment to Al Jazeera, Joshua Meservey, assistant director at the Atlantic Council’s Africa Center, explained that, rather than high value targets such as the presidential palace and urban centers, the group was moving to smaller, more vulnerable targets in neighboring regions while it recovered from the major setback.
"They [Al-Shabab] can’t control as much territory as they once did," he said. "They can’t fight AMISOM (African Union Mission to Somalia) in a conventional military battle, so really they’re left with terror attacks."
With "aggressive" fundraising operations fueling the group's ever-present need for expanded resources, as reported by NBC News, the presence of al Shabab grows larger with each passing day. Certainly, with the right tools and targets, it won't be long before the group has developed into the next major threat. And with one eye on the ISIS situation in the Middle East, the other eye focused on Boko Haram, and both hands tied up in Iranian nuclear talks, it's going to take everything the United States has to remain vigilant about al Shabab and ready to assist its East African neighbors.
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