For the last two weeks, Kenyan leaders have been debating whether to keep troops in war-torn Somalia to fight al-Shabab or pull them back to the borders to fight insurgent fighters who have carried out deadly attacks in those regions and other towns in the country.
Leaders allied to the Kenyan government say pulling troops from the neighboring country will not halt the terrorist threats.
Since President Uhuru Kenyatta came to power in April 2013, more than 400 people have been killed in terror attacks. The deadliest was the incident at Garissa University College, which claimed the lives of more than 140 people.
Billow Kerrow, a senator from Mandera County, one of the towns worst hit by terror attacks in recent months, said “Kenya Defense Forces need to deploy on the border to create a buffer zone of about 50 kilometers or so on the border but not in Kismayo and those towns."
"Secondly," he added, "I think KDF need to be on the border. If you go to Mandera, [which] shares 270 kilometers with Somalia — how many KDF do we have? Less than 200 and one or two camps. You need KDF literally in every 20-30 kilometers to man the border.”
Kenyan media report that Mandera County Governor Ali Roba wants Kenyan soldiers to remain in Somalia. The governor said he believes the troops are doing a good job. Roba has survived more than two attacks in Mandera.
Opposition leaders have insisted the recent spate of attacks in the country stem from Kenya’s involvement in Somalia.
Senator James Orengo, a member of the opposition, said a local insurgency is brewing in Kenya and its forces should fight local terror networks.
“Now al-Shabab menace is rearing its head in a different way because that external insurgency is turning into a really internal threat as we are learning they are trying to recruit Kenyans ... to be part of al-Shabab in Somalia," he said.
Orengo said al-Shabab is "engaging Kenyans rather than Somalis of Somalia origin in the illegal activities they are carrying in Kenya.”
In the recent attack on Garissa University College, investigators revealed four of the attackers were Kenyans, one of them the son of a Mandera local chief, and two were from western Kenya. Authorities said they believe the fourth was from the coastal city of Mombasa.
The United Nations monitoring group for Somalia and Eritrea estimates 500 youths have joined al-Shabab in Somalia.
Kenyan authorities issued a 10-day amnesty to Kenyan youths who joined al-Shabab, asking them to report to police and denounce violence.
Muslim leaders welcomed the offer, but Christian leaders are opposed to the blanket amnesty, saying it will amount to giving in to terrorism.
"The debate demanding our forces to return back to Kenya — it’s a useless debate," said Deputy President William Ruto.
He said those making the demand are heeding the call of the terror group.
"Al-Shabab are the ones who are saying we should pull our forces out of Somalia," he added. "So you Kenyan leaders — how can you join hands with al-Shabab to withdraw our forces? Are you al-Shabab?”
The militant group has vowed to continue attacks in Kenya until the country withdraws its forces — a demand Kenyan officials reject.