What really happened when Al-shabaab attacked KDF?
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.
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.
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)