Anxiety grips the nation over fate of Kenya Defence Force soldiers
Issa Abdi, the father of Abdinassir Issa, is the face of anxiety that has gripped the country following reports that Al-Shabaab militants had ambushed a KDF base in El Adde, southern Somalia on Friday morning.His son is one of the soldiers recently deployed under AMISOM to pursue and fight terrorists in the war-torn country.
Kenyans have been waiting for official communication about the fate of KDF soldiers who were ambushed by the militants on Friday morning. Families of the soldiers have been thrown into darkness, frustration and agony as little information trickles in from Somalia.
In Wajir, Abdi hangs his dying hope only in prayers. He does not know the fate of his son. The Kenya Defence Force (KDF) top brass largely remained tight lipped yesterday even as the Islamists claimed to have killed more Kenyan soldiers than they had proclaimed on Friday. But Interior Cabinet Secretary Joseph Nkaiserry refuted these claims, saying that the terrorists lost more fighters in the hands of KDF soldiers.
When news of the attack filtered in on Friday morning, KDF spokesman Colonel David Obonyo sent out a media brief and followed it up with another one in the afternoon. President Uhuru Kenyatta issued a statement from State House, Mombasa and touched on the attack when he presided over a public function in the coastal city on Friday evening.
On the same day, police spokesman Charles Owino also addressed the media over the same matter. But yesterday, there was little information from the government concerning the fate of the soldiers, apart from a brief press conference held in Mombasa by Nkaiserry. At the conference, Nkaiserry said “the injured (soldiers) have been evacuated to Kenya,“ without providing details of the casualties and fatalities on either side. The CS said “the Amisom unit (African Union Mission in Somalia) is mopping up the area in hot pursuit and have inflicted heavy casualties on the enemy
However, Al-Shabaab spokesman Ali Mohamud Rage yesterday claimed the group killed 100 Kenyan soldiers, upwards from 63 that another of the group‘s spokesman, Abdulaziz Abu Musab, had claimed on Friday.
On Friday morning, at around 4am, heavily armed militants breached the defences of the Kenyan camp using a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED).
An Al-Shabaab official told the BBC on Friday that its fighters attacked the base after morning prayers, starting with a car bomb before storming the facility. “We took control of the base after one hour of fierce fighting,“ he said. The militants further told the BBC that it confiscated 28 military vehicles belonging to KDF.
However, the Kenyan military said it was a camp belonging to the Somali National Army that was overran, prompting the Kenyan soldiers to join in on the side of SNA. Yesterday, Nkaissery said fighting was still going on and that „the enemy had suffered massive casualties,“ but did not state which Kenyan soldiers were engaged in what he described as „hot pursuit“.
The dearth of information about the attack was manifested in the fact that even the foreign media that usually have several correspondents in Somalia did not have fresh information, not even a picture, on the attack.
Sources in Amisom and Somali security told The Standard on Sunday they had intelligence about the impending attack at El Adde which they allegedly shared with the KDF. According to a source in the Somali capital Mogadishu, at least three security alerts had been issued over last year‘s festive season.
“We had intel that up to 30 Al Shabaab gunmen would assist in the carrying of complex attack on one of the Amisom camps in Gedo region. They would use two vehicle-borne explosives to gain entrance into a KDF and SNA camp,“ said a security source in the peace-keeping mission who requested to remain anonymous.
“The intel we had is that the 30-plus Al-Shabaab fighters on the mission to attack El Adde were camping only less than 15 kilometres away as they waited to be given the green light by their commander,“ he said.
According to a Somalia security source in Gedo, the fighters had been camping at a site known as Wargadud. They left for El Adde at 2:50am targeting the KDF and Somali National Army camp. As they approached, the source added, the militants split into two groups – one hitting on the Somali Army base which is some 600 meters away from the KDF camp. When Kenyan soldiers responded to the attack on SNA camp, they were confronted by the second group that was lying in wait.
A military official in Busar, KDF‘s main command centre in Gedo region which includes El Adde, said that a section of the local population appears to have aided the planning of the attack. The official said that “we received reports that the entire population of El Adde fled the town about three hours before the attack which means they were aware something was about to happen“.
But the official reports that this behavior is a bit unusual because the civilian population in these areas tend to flee conflict zones days in advance fearing to be caught up in skirmishes. “In this case they stayed behind until the last moments which means either they cooperated in the preparations in order not to alert the KDF reconnaissance teams or were coerced to stay,“ he said.
Sources within the military told The Standard on Sunday that Special Forces were inserted into areas around El Adde on Friday during the day and yesterday for search and rescue operations.There were fears that the militants who appeared to be in control of areas around the camp had mined areas surrounding it or rigged it with explosives.
Aerial search and rescue operations were complicated by fears that the miltants would shoot down helicopters after the group allegedly confiscated heavy artillery, including anti-aircraft missiles, from the Kenyan camp.
In Mombasa, Nkaissery declared that “Kenya‘s resolve against terror is unshakable“ and accused three unnamed bloggers he described as „unpatriotic characters“ of posting and circulating images said to be dead Kenyan soldiers and the devastation of the KDF camp.