KDF hits Al-Shabaab in air and land strikes as Uhuru sends stern warning

President asks public to give military full support, pledges to work with regional leaders in stepping up campaign against Somalia terrorist group.

Tuesday January 19 2016

Chief of Defence Forces Gen Samson Mwathethe addresses journalists at Wilson Airport on January 18, 2016 after receiving more soldiers who were airlifted to Nairobi.

Chief of Defence Forces Gen Samson Mwathethe addresses journalists at Wilson Airport on January 18, 2016 after receiving more soldiers who were airlifted to Nairobi. The military boss said security forces had launched an operation to pursue attackers and find missing soldiers. PHOTO | EVANS HABIL | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By NJERI RUGENE
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President Uhuru Kenyatta on Monday declared that Kenya would not be cowed by terrorists as Kenya Defence Forces mounted a counter-offensive strike against Al-Shabaab bases in Somalia.

Although Chief of Defence Forces Gen Samsom Mwathethe described the counter-attack as “a delicate operation”, military planes conducted air strikes against Al-Shabaab, and on the ground, tactical units used armoured vehicles to hit the terrorists’ camps in retaliation for the Friday dawn raid against a KDF camp in El-Adde, Somalia.

“We shall defend our country by all means and we will unite with other countries in the region to defeat these terrorists,” the President warned when he addressed a gathering at Lango Baya Primary School grounds in Kilifi County.

“We shall defend our country and we will unite as a region, fight and defeat them to ensure we live in peace.”

He asked Kenyans to support the military campaign in Somalia.

“We need to give them our full support because it is through their sacrifice and selflessness that we are able to enjoy the current peace and development,” he said.

“Without the work they are doing (in Somalia) there cannot be development,” the President said.

(READ: How Shabaab raided Kenya military camp - VIDEO)

DELICATE OPERATION

And speaking in Nairobi after receiving another group of soldiers who were injured in the Friday attack, Gen Mwathethe said the ongoing operation was a cautious undertaking because the military believes there are several Kenyan soldiers being held captive. 

“We have information to the effect that some soldiers are being used as human shields,” he said.

Besides the bombing of Al-Shabaab bases, KDF soldiers were also engaged in a search and rescue mission, which entered its fourth day on Monday.

The aim of the mission is to find missing or injured Kenyan soldiers and repatriate them to safety.

The operation was also aimed at recovering the bodies of those who died in combat.

By Monday, 30 soldiers who survived the Friday attack had been transferred to Nairobi.

“This morning another group of heroes have returned. They have no physical injuries but are exhausted because of the ordeal they went through,” said Defence Cabinet Secretary Raychelle Omamo at Wilson Airport in Nairobi yesterday after receiving 16 survivors who arrived aboard a Kenya Air Force plane at noon.

Four others who were injured arrived on Sunday at noon while another group was flown in later that evening.

Gen Mwathethe, Army Commander Leonard Ngondi and Air Force Commander Samuel Thuita were also at the airport to receive the soldiers on Monday.

(READ: Soldier tried to call seniors in vain)

HIDING IN THE BUSH

Except for one soldier who walked out of the plane with a slight limp, the rest looked fit.

Some emerged from the plane carrying their rifles.

Among the survivors were those who endured long walks to the border, where they were received in other KDF camps.

There are others who were still hiding in bushes but had sent signals that they were still alive and were waiting to be picked up and flown to Kenya.

Ms Omamo said the number of soldiers killed would be made public once the operation ended.

The bodies of those killed in battle were expected in Nairobi last evening.

At the same time, military headquarters announced four help lines and urged relatives of soldiers to call and get information about the fate of their loved ones.

They are 0792780862 at Defence headquarters; 0792780863 at Defence Forces Memorial Hospital; 0792780864 at Gilgil; and 0792780865 at the Eldoret barracks.

On Sunday, Gen Mwathethe said: “To our families who have taken every step with us, thank you. I assure you that [the] KDF fraternity will stand with you till the end.”

Speaking in Kilifi County, where he had accompanied the President to launch the Sh600 million Baricho Water Project, National Assembly Majority Leader Aden Duale asked the government to increase the number of soldiers in Somalia.

“The government should make Al-Shabaab pay 10 times for what they did,” Mr Duale said. “We must not be cowed by terrorists and should destroy them for the region to enjoy peace and prosperity.”

The opposition coalition Cord on Monday urged the government to declare two days of national mourning in honour of the fallen soldiers.

Separately, Amani National Congress leader Musalia Mudavadi called for a decisive move by the government to defeat Al-Shabaab.

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