“We do not negotiate with terrorists,” is now the predictable response by governments throughout the world to the question on how they are going to handle cases of their citizens being held by outlawed organisations.
The Kenya Government is no exception. Despite this assertion, in reality governments and terrorists do negotiate. The government has several options on how to safely bring the 10 Kenyans home safely.
Prisoner exchange is one option that guarantees a win-win situation for all, however unpalatable it might be. It is an option Israel took with Palestinian Hamas militants who abducted a soldier, Gilad Shalit, in 2006.
After more than five years of holding out, and with mounting public campaigns to bring the soldier home by all means, the Israeli Government accepted last year to release some 1,027 Palestinian prisoners for Shalit’s freedom.
The US has also been in prisoner-exchange negotiations with the Taliban it has been fighting in Afghanistan for the release of its soldier, Bowe Bergdahl, who was captured by the militants in 2009.
So far Al-Shabaab has not made any public financial ransom demands apart from urging KDF to pull out of Somalia, which indicates that the group is perhaps holding on to the Kenyans for last-ditch surrender negotiations.
A daring rescue operation is the other option available to the military. However, this will involve highly skilled special operation units like the one Nato staged to rescue a group of aid workers, including Kenya’s Moragwa Oirere, who were abducted in Afghanistan by the Taliban early this month.
While the Kenya military is not publicly known to have staged such high precision rescue missions before, it is not out of its abilities given the fact that KDF ranks as one of the best trained forces on the continent.
However, the attendant risks are equally high especially now that the militants are staring at defeat.