How Kenyan fighters routed Shabaab militia
Posted Saturday, June 23 2012 at 20:34
“We have done this with minimal casualties, and there is no doubt that Al-Shabaab’s capability is now seriously degraded and Kenya’s borders are more secure than they were before we moved in.”
In fairness, it is possible to understand the sceptics’ point of view when the military action started.
For centuries Somalia, like Afghanistan, had proved to be a graveyard for countries moving into its territory; it counts wars against foreign powers as early as 10 AD when locals rebelled against Caliph Harun al-Rashid’s of the Baghdad caliphate who had imposed unpopular taxation policies.
The Kenyan strategy has succeeded partly because it first sought to estrange the Shabaab from the local community by working with key elders from the Mohamed Zuber clan, the dominant sub-group in the Gedo and Jubbaland regions that border Kenya.
Apart from destroying Al-Shabaab bases in the towns they have captured, the Kenyans have also invested heavily in public diplomacy, explaining that they are not an occupying force and are only interested in getting rid of Al-Shabaab and getting local leaders to pick new administrations to replace the retreating Shabaab cadre.
Hassan Murser Maalim, the clinical officer at a small health centre in the middle of Afmadhow town which serves a population of more than 50,000 people, says locals are relieved to see the backs of the militants.
“This area has always been peaceful. Even when the civil war broke out in 1991 the situation here was calm because this area has only one clan.
“But things changed when Al-Shabaab came and started fighting with the (local) Hizb Ul Islam militia. Now people just want to go back to their normal lives and to see the many aid agencies that were removed by the Shabaab return.”
The attack on Afmadhow had been rumoured for months, but it was unclear when Kenya would move forward until they launched a lightning advance on May 30 from Beles Qoqani to Tabda and onwards to Afmadhow the next day.
It was the climactic moment of the seven-month war effort, the outcome of what Lt Col Nyaga calls months of deliberate preparation. Soldiers at the front spoke of a tough and painstaking advance from the day Operation Linda Nchi began.
The first time Kenya encountered enemy fire was on day two after they crossed the border when Al-Shabaab launched an attack to defend the border town of Dhobley only a few minutes drive from Liboi on the Kenyan side.
“The fighting was intense because it was one of Al-Shabaab’s strongholds,” says Lt Col Nyaga.
“It is the gateway to the refugee camp in Dadaab which is home to more than 500,000 people. It offers a ready market for goods from Kismayu and is also an important smuggling route.”
After Kenya seized the strategic towns of Delbio and Shabaab’s logistical base in Tabda, the militants decided to change tack.
Instead of confronting Kenya openly, they turned to guerrilla tactics, laying ambushes on convoys, attempting to shell bases and using Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) to slow the Kenyan advance.
After regrouping in Beles Qoqani, Al-Shabaab launched a major attack on the Kenyan forward operating base in Tabda on December 12; it was repulsed.
The next major “contact”, as the soldiers call the encounters between Kenyan Defence Forces and the Shabaab, was on January 10 when the Kenyans were moving supplies from the newly captured Beles Qoqani town to a base in Tabda.
Lt Peter Muriithi was at the head of that convoy and recalls vividly the pitched battle they endured.