How KDF captured Afmadow
Posted Monday, June 4 2012 at 14:56
After months of waiting, the Kenya Defence Forces struck last week after wearing down the Al-Shabaab militia group by keeping it waiting for months for a Kenyan attack
At the time they roared into Afmadow, they were controlling about 95,000 square kilometres of Somalia.
The capture of this strategic town, however, had taken too long, rekindling memories of the World War II blockbuster A Bridge Too Far to Cross. But there was a reason, a very good reason, for this delay.
Intelligence reports had convinced the men who called the shots on the Kenyan side, the KDF generals, that the right time for advancement was during unfavourable weather.
The logic was that Al-Shabaab transport units would be bogged down in mud, making it easy for KDF helicopters to identify them and swoop in for the kill.
Armed with this intelligence, military planners were convinced that the Al-Shabaab would fully prepare its best men ready for the Kenyans, and that the best way to wear down these bad boys was to keep them eagerly waiting for the Kenyan onslaught... for months.
Thus, as an intelligence brief argued, it was better to delay the capture of Afmadow “as long as it would take”.
It was concluded that a delay approach might actually achieve something. The sector headquarters in Dobley started preparing the soldiers for an imminent war which it knew it would take months to launch.
Meanwhile, numbers of Al-Shabaab fighters kept on moving away from Afmadow to other areas.
A group of journalists flown to Somalia at the beginning of this year was also deliberately made to believe that the battle for Afmadow was almost happening.
The information came in through a three-tier system. After the arrival of the Kenyan spies, informers were planted in the town, where they started running all kinds of businesses, ensuring a constant flow of human intelligence (referred to in military lingo as ‘humid briefs’).
Informers from the town relayed info to the Kenyan forces on every move the Al-Shabaab made.
This ‘humid info’ was then carefully cross-checked with still and recorded images from drones (unmanned aircraft) and clips of movements captured from a light aircraft for surveillance flying about six to seven kilometres above the ground. The drone observations started about two and a half years ago.
Military intelligence officers in Nairobi and Somalia analysed the data and estimated Afmadow’s population with an aim of avoiding civilian deaths, or ‘collateral damage’.
But, like in any war, there were mistakes along the way. An initial attack by the Somali government army ended with their butchering. Al-Shabaab fighters tied their bodies to vehicles and dragged them along the streets of the town.
It has been said that only the dead see the end of a war, but Lieutenant Colonel Jeff Nyaga, a charismatic military tactician, had a different message for his fighters just before they crossed the rough terrain into Afmadow last week.
“Gentleman,” he began, “this is war... and people die in war. But this one will be different.” His combat team, which, he said, packed a “killer punch”, listened pensively, seeming too eager to end the months-long wait.
Their convoy had all the hallmarks of a modern show of might, with over 100 vehicles stretching about a kilometre into the thickets that dot the forlorn terrain that is Afmadow suburbs.
The soldiers included assault troops, tank men, artillery units, infantry, engineers and a dozen other trades of war. Operation Free Afmadow had two stages: Capture Xayo town, located along the way, before proceeding to the much bigger Afmadow.