The decisive response mounted by the Kenya Defence Forces after an Al-Shabaab attack on a KDF camp in Somalia was revealed on Thursday.
The chief of the KDF, Gen Samson Mwathethe, said that soldiers from the army and Air Force were deployed to fight the terrorists who had attacked the KDF camp at El-Adde.
Kenyan soldiers overcame land mines planted on the way to the camp, and the threat of anti-aircraft fire to reach the camp from two fronts, said Gen Mwathethe.
Kenya’s top military commanders, including those for the Navy, Air Force and Army, together with Vice KDF Chief Joseph Kasaon, joined Gen Mwathethe during the military’s first media briefing after the Friday attack.
Gen Mwathethe addressed the media at the Defence headquarters in Nairobi. He acknowledged the heavy casualties that KDF had suffered but said the actual number would take time to determine.
He said the camp, which was in an open field, was attacked with three vehicles each laden with bombs the size of those used to attack the US embassy in Nairobi in 1998.
These were backed by trucks carrying suicide bombers.
In its response, KDF deployed extra troops from Mandera, Elwak and Wajir with orders to take a 10-hour journey by road and meet in Damasa, the first town after entering Somalia.
The general explained he avoided sending reinforcements by air because Al-Shabaab had mounted anti-aircraft guns and did not want more casualties.
The anti-aircraft guns could have easily been destroyed using fighter jets, so as to allow troops carriers to land, but Gen Mwathethe did not order the airstrike to avoid killing innocent children because Al-Shabaab had stationed the guns at a primary school.
However, Air Force fighter jets bombed other Al-Shabaab camps, killing Maalim Janow, the leader of the Abu Zubeir brigade, who led the Friday attack.
More airstrikes were ordered in areas where there were no threats to civilians.
“In the meantime, at around midday (on Friday) our surveillance aircraft picked the enemy loading the loot onto their trucks.
Again, we had to delay our attack on the trucks until when they moved away from the camp at 12pm and engaged them 10 minutes later,” said Gen Mwathethe.
“Again, our surveillance aircraft picked another static convoy that had split into two. The convoy with more vehicles was engaged by our jets at 3pm.
While the second convoy moved into the centre of Wal-Gadud town could not be engaged.”
Kenyan soldiers who managed to escape after the Friday attack and walked to the area near the border were rescued by helicopters.
In anticipation of a KDF response, Al-Shabaab planted numerous improvised bombs on the road to El-Adde.
The ground troops were thus ordered to begin a 175-kilometre walk on Saturday, to El-Adde.
“The ground troops commenced their tactical movement fighting through from Damasa towards El-Adde with a lot of enemy resistance.
Due to the reported resistance, a follow-on force, comprising armour elements was constituted and launched from Elwak,” said Gen Mwathethe.
The soldiers arrived at the camp on Monday, fought off the terrorists and killing some of them while others fled as KDF recaptured the camp.
“The ground troops took full control of the El-Adde camp and insertion by helicopter of additional troops was done. Mopping up began in earnest while search, rescue and recovery operations continued.”
The mission was expected to have been completed on Thursday. Amisom forces in Somalia, under which KDF has been operating, did not have capability to help Kenyan troops after the attack.
During the attack, Al-Shabaab used three vehicles laden with bombs.
“You can imagine that one vehicle bomb that went through the US embassy in Nairobi did such damage. You can imagine three of those in that small defensive position.
Despite the intensity, our soldiers held their defence position,” he said.
A similar attack in 1983 killed 242 US marines and 58 French troops after an explosion in their barracks in Beirut, where they were on a peace mission.
During the Friday attack, the first vehicle bomb that went in moved to the centre of the camp.
“Unfortunately, that is the area that has the command centre plus the OCs (officers in charge) and officers.
On that particular day, the telephones were also down. But through other intelligence we received information,” the General said, and added that there was no specific intelligence prior to the attack.
“I know there is talk of people giving this intelligence and saying we were given this intelligence. As far as we are concerned, we did not get specific intelligence.”
He added: “I’ve constituted a board of inquiry, which is already in El-Adde to carry out a full investigation on what really transpired and it is only then that we will be able to answer the questions we may have.”