What re­ally hap­pened when Al-shabaab at­tacked KDF?

Nairobi Law Monthly - - Briefing -

Mys­tery still sur­rounds the deadly at­tack by Is­lamist mil­i­tants on an African Union base in So­ma­lia last month. The base on the out­skirts of town is made up of two mil­i­tary camps – one hous­ing the So­ma­lia Na­tional Army and the other a con­tin­gent of Kenyan troops.

Res­i­dents of the south-western el-ade town were the first to break the news, say­ing Al-shabaab fight­ers ar­rived at dawn. The raid be­gan with an ex­plo­sion by a sui­cide car bomber at the gates of the base, af­ter which dozens of gun­men fol­lowed, shoot­ing as they went. Eye­wit­nesses said dozens of Kenyan sol­diers were killed while oth­ers ran away into the bush.

But this was not the ver­sion of events that was given by the Kenyan mil­i­tary.

A few hours af­ter the at­tack, Col David Obonyo, Kenya De­fence Forces spokesman, in­sisted it was the So­mali camp that had been hit – and that Kenyan troops had rushed to its de­fence. How­ever, a So­mali govern­ment of­fi­cial dis­puted this and told the BBC that it was ac­tu­ally the Kenyan­manned sec­tion that was raided.

In the days since the at­tack, there have been no re­ports of So­mali mil­i­tary ca­su­al­ties and no in­di­ca­tion that So­mali sol­diers were even present at the time of the at­tack.

KDF Chief of Staff Gen­eral Samson Mwa­thethe now says the at­tack­ers used three pow­er­ful car bombs at the en­trances to the two ad­ja­cent camps.

A So­mali gen­eral has told the BBC the Kenyan mil­i­tary had been warned of an im­pend­ing at­tack. Gen­eral Abass Ibrahim Gurey told the BBC that “clear and re­li­able in­tel­li­gence” had been passed on 45 days be­fore the ji­hadist fight­ers struck.

Al-shabaab has al­ways in­sisted that the Kenyans were their tar­get, and claimed to have taken “com­plete con­trol” of the camp, and seized weapons and ve­hi­cles.

El-ade res­i­dents said the fight­ers had hoisted their flags in the Kenyan sec­tion and were parad­ing the bod­ies of the dead Kenyans, send­ing out me­dia state­ments that 60 sol­diers had been killed.

Hu­man shields

How­ever, an of­fi­cial fig­ure for those killed is still not known. The mil­i­tary is still in­ves­ti­gat­ing the in­ci­dent and says it will even re­quire DNA test­ing to iden­tify the bod­ies of the Kenyan sol­diers.

Four in­jured Kenyan sol­diers were air­lifted to Nairobi for med­i­cal treat­ment, fol­lowed by an­other 16, who Col Obonyo said were mostly suf­fer­ing from trauma.

De­fence Min­is­ter Ray­chelle Omamo gave the first lead re­gard­ing num­bers, say­ing the group af­fected by the at­tack was a “com­pany-sized force”, which could be any­thing be­tween 80 and 250 men.

By then, Al-shabaab was say­ing it had killed 100 Kenyans. The mil­i­tant group, linked to al-qaeda, said its fig­ures had gone up as its fight­ers had pur­sued some of the sol­diers who fled.

Sev­eral days later, a So­mali of­fi­cial told the BBC that 13 Kenyan sol­diers who had es­caped dur­ing the raid had shown up in an­other town in the south-western Gedo re­gion. The men were said to have ar­rived on foot and ap­peared trau­ma­tised. The of­fi­cial said they were in safe hands and would be handed over to the Kenyan con­tin­gent of the AU’S mil­i­tary mis­sion.

In re­sponse to the at­tack, Kenyan mil­i­tary planes are said to be bomb­ing in Gedo, al­though it is not clear who or what they are tar­get­ing.

Kenya’s mil­i­tary chief Gen­eral Samson Mwa­thethe said it was a del­i­cate op­er­a­tion as Al-shabaab was us­ing the cap­tured Kenyan sol­diers as hu­man shields.

Photo war

The mil­i­tants added in­sult to in­jury by lead­ing the way in the pro­pa­ganda bat­tle, through al­most im­me­di­ately re­leas­ing pho­tos of the scene of the at­tack. The im­ages showed dam­aged ve­hi­cles, aban­doned caches of arms and gory pic­tures of dead sol­diers in Kenya Army uni­form.

The govern­ment had al­ready said it would take le­gal ac­tion against any­one who shared pho­tos of its dead sol­diers. In­te­rior Min­is­ter Joseph Nkaissery said this was nec­es­sary to avoid “am­plify­ing the ter­ror­ist agenda through shar­ing of pho­tos and sym­pa­this­ing with the ter­ror­ists”.

It held to its threat, charg­ing a man whom it ac­cused of dis­tribut­ing such pho­tos on the mes­sag­ing ser­vice What­sapp, from where they found their way to other so­cial me­dia sites.

The Kenyan mil­i­tary says it will only re­lease of­fi­cial fig­ures when the on­go­ing search-and-res­cue op­er­a­tion is com­plete and fam­ily mem­bers of the dead have been in­formed. How­ever, some of th­ese rel­a­tives, who have flocked to mil­i­tary bases around Kenya to find out the fate of their loved ones, have com­plained that the mil­i­tary is keep­ing them in the dark.

Pres­i­dent Keny­atta says the at­tack – the heav­i­est the Kenyans have suf­fered since their ar­rival in So­ma­lia in 2011 – will not af­fect its mis­sion; rather, it will only strengthen their re­solve to achieve re­gional peace. ^(BBC)

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