The Nation reporter Jeremy Scahill has detailed the many groups that the U.S. appears to have turned toward opposing al-Shabaab. Some of these actors naturally oppose the jihadi group -- for example, a Sufi group called Ahlus Sunnah wal Jamaah, which opposes al-Shabaab's ideology. Other actors, though, have fought on the same side as al-Shabaab during the conflict in Somalia. These include, for example, former ICU members such as Sheikh Ahmed Mohammed Islam and General Yusuf Mohamed Siad (also known as Indha Adde). As Scahill wrote, the U.S. is trying "to purchase strategic loyalty from former allies of the current enemy" inside Somalia, much as it did in Iraq in 2006 and 2007.
The third prong of U.S. strategy is to help build an indigenous Somali intelligence network. The U.S. has been doing this relatively quietly, with only occasional reports making their way into the media. The New York Times reported in August that the CIA has been involved in building the Somali National Security Agency. These efforts have attracted controversy, in part due to the central role played by private contractors. Whether or not this controversy is justified, the U.S. clearly considers developing local intelligence capabilities to be an important part of its strategy for the country.
The fourth major component of U.S. strategy in Somalia is to use "decapitation" strikes to kill al-Shabaab leaders, an effort where drones are playing a key role. In late June, a U.S. drone strike in Kismayo wounded two al-Shabaab senior officials. In September, the Washington Post reported that the U.S. has either built new bases for drones or else expanded existing bases in Ethiopia, Djibouti, and the Seychelles islands.
So how does the Kenyan advance fit into U.S. strategy? Many details of Kenya's invasion remain unknown at this point. Kenyan government officials recently revealed that the invasion of Somalia "was not simply a response to a wave of recent kidnappings, as previously claimed, but was actually planned far in advance."
It seems, however, that Kenya's incursion into Somalia has been broader than the U.S. expected when Kenya first went in, with the apparent objective of carrying out punitive strikes for the kidnappings that had taken place in its territory. This fact has made some observers fear that Kenya's effort could backfire. David Anderson, a Kenya specialist at Oxford, told the New York Times, "The invasion was a serious miscalculation, and the Kenyan economy is going to suffer badly." There are also concerns that this outside power's meddling could undermine attempts to turn local forces against al-Shabaab -- by, for example, potentially delegitimizing anti-Shabaab groups by making them look like the pawns of foreigners. Ethiopia's invasion in 2006 stirred up great nationalist unrest.