Gallant soldiers fought to their last breath to repulse attackers

Monday January 30 2017

By NYAMBEGA GISESA
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Kenya Defence Forces senior commanders at the besieged Kolbiyow Camp, who fought through critical injuries and at disadvantaged positions to help turn the tide in one of the deadliest attacks in the war in Somalia, fought to their last breath, the Nation can reveal.

A Maj Mwangi, the Artillery Battery Commander, and Captain Silas Ekidor, the Infantry Second Officer in Charge (2IC), led the defence of the camp with valour before they fell.

Survivors have told the Nation that the camp, which was manned by a company drawn from the 15KR Battalion, was attacked at about 5am on Friday.

The company had received intelligence suggesting a planned insurgent attack on the camp.

A day before the raid, the commanders had sent a platoon of about 40 soldiers to scout for Al-Shabaab terrorists, gather more intelligence and help create a strategy for defending the camp.

Just before daylight, a security drone code named “Scan Eagle” hovering around the camp spotted about 150 fighters approaching the camp.

The top commanders at the camp, Commanding Officer Maj Mwangi and Captain Ekidor, are said to have quickly crafted a strategy to defeat the oncoming enemy.

The commanders quickly assembled their men to further fortify the camp and maintain strategic positions for engagement with the terrorists.

The KDF troops started by engaging the enemy using 105mm artillery guns and 81 mortars.

The exchange lasted for about 50 minutes until a few minutes before 6am when things went silent.

KDF soldiers at the camp retreated to their normal routines, chatting about the engagements, and even helping their counterparts from the Somali National Army prepare breakfast.

The calm did not last long.

About 20 minutes past six, the surveillance drone noticed hundreds of insurgents approaching the camp from various directions.

CRIES OF HELP

Although the drones noticed the approach of the first vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices, the commanders are said to have been caught too unawares to quickly repulse the oncoming vehicles that drove through the fence of the camp before exploding.

One soldier is said to have single-handedly shot at an oncoming vehicle filled with explosives driven by a suicide bomber, with an 84mm anti-tank gun.

According to survivors, the soldier — whose identity we are yet to establish — risked his life as he shot at the driver of the vehicle with the bomb, which exploded after breaching the outer perimeter.

The result of the explosion was so intense that fragments from the explosive and the heat reached the KDF men lying in wait at the front trenches.

After the explosion, pandemonium broke out at the camp.

Some of the survivors say that during the attack they prayed that the enemy would run out of ammunition as rocket-propelled grenades whooshed, gunshots sounded like splitting wood and AK-47s chattered.

In the words of a survivor who contacted his family, “the jungle was erupting in fire”.

“Cries of help were drowned by pounding booms of explosions and artillery shells. It was just sounds of bullets firing, mortar, artillery and explosions,” a survivor recalled.

Scrambling to avoid the hail of bullets, the soldiers took whatever shelter they could find and returned fire.

In this mayhem, Captain Ekidor is said to have led his men to put up a defence at a position from where they could see the second vehicle with the bomb fast approaching the camp.

The captain and his men are said to have shot at the vehicle and Al-Shabaab fighters approaching from the fringes.

The bomb exploded as it approached his men.

After the second explosion, a decision was made to withdraw soldiers from the front trenches, many of whom were fighting with multiple injuries from bullets and shrapnel.

BACKUP

As this went on, the militants fired at defensive trenches with heavy machine guns and rocket propelled grenades (RPGs).

Then things got worse. A third vehicle breached the inner defence and exploded.

After this, the attackers ran all over the camp hunting down KDF troops.

Even a heavy downpour did not help in muffling the exchange of fire.

With dozens of men suffering life-threatening injuries, without artillery support, pinned down by RPGS, hand grenades, unending fire from machine guns and small arms, the situation looked bleak.

A decision to withdraw from the camp is said to have been made.

Soldiers say that it became a matter of running for dear life to the nearby bush.

The soldiers fought bravely but were eventually overwhelmed.

Al-Shabaab fighters overran the camp, took useful supplies and ammunition and started celebrating with chants of "Allah akbar".

KDF soldiers managed to regroup and reorganised to launch a major counter-offensive.

The arrival of a KDF Z9 attack helicopter signified a crucial turning point in the battle.

The helicopter fired at the militants, forcing them to scatter.

Hours later, a team of Special Forces from Lamu and a Quick Response Force drawn from the 17KR Battalion stationed at Hulugho arrived at the camp.