The Kenya Defence Forces on Friday deployed helicopter gunships and fighter jets in a massive counter-offensive against the Al-Shabaab after the terror group attacked its camp in El-Adde, in Gedo Somalia, killing an unknown number of soldiers.
President Uhuru Kenyatta, who is also the Commander-in-Chief, saluted the Kenyan troops who were killed in combat, saying they did not die in vain, because they were protecting Kenya from her enemies.
“Regrettably, some of our patriots in uniform paid the ultimate price. It is heart-breaking. I want to take this opportunity to express mine and the country’s deepest sympathy to the families and loved ones of the fallen. I stand with you.
Our country stands with you. We deeply appreciate the sacrifices made by your loved ones in defence of our democracy, our peace and our security,” he said in a statement issued from Mombasa, where he launched a national street-lighting programme.
KDF TO STAY PUT
The President said the Kenyan troops would remain in Somalia to sustain the offensive against the Al-Shabaab until the terror group was defeated.
“We will not be cowed by these cowards. With our allies, we will continue in Somalia to fulfil our mission. We will hunt down the criminals involved in today’s events. Our soldiers’ blood will not be shed in vain,” he added.
The counter-offensive, which was triggered by a 4am ambush on the Kenyan camp, lasted the entire day.
Earlier, the military headquarters in Nairobi confirmed the deaths but fell short of giving the number of those killed in combat, saying efforts to “consolidate” returns from the battlefield were still ongoing.
Other soldiers were Missing In Action (MIA), meaning they had not been accounted for.
“The terrorist group Al-Shabaab attacked an African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) base camp at El Adde, in Somalia. El-Adde is occupied by the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) serving under AMISOM.
Our gallant soldiers reacted swiftly to protect their camp; to protect their peace and stability that they are in Somalia to secure; and to protect our country from its enemies and their sympathisers,” President Kenyatta said.
He added: “I will keep the families in my thoughts and prayers at this difficult time, and I ask Kenyans to pray with me.”
Cord leader Raila Odinga and his Amani National Congress(ANC) counterpart Musalia Mudavadi sent condolences to the families of the dead soldiers, saying the attacks showed the threat of terrorism was real and urged the country to stand together.
“I extend deep condolences to the families of the slain soldiers who have died in a valiant effort to keep our country and the world safe.
“Their death confirms the danger we continue to face from extremists as a country and a region. As a nation, we must stand together in condemning this brutal and brazen attack on freedom,” said Mr Odinga.
The President’s statement, clarified earlier reports that Al-Shabaab had attacked a Somali National Army camp next to KDF’s. They are allies who both have bases at El-Adde.
Military spokesman Colonel David Obonyo said the militants initially attacked the SNA camp, triggering the counter-attack by the KDF.
“Al-Shabaab attacked the SNA camp which is in close proximity to KDF camp at El-Adde. The SNA camp was overrun and KDF troops under Amisom counter-attacked in support of SNA. The fighting is still going on. KDF will provide more information once it becomes available,” he said in the first statement at 10.30 am.
A second statement was released at 2.30 pm, saying activities were still going on in the area and that the number of casualties was unknown.
“The Ministry of Defence condemns this heinous act in the strongest terms feasible and wishes to assure the public that KDF is doing all it can to control the situation in the shortest time possible,” Col Obonyo added.
Quoting Al-Shabaab forces, the BBC reported that 60 Kenyan troops were killed, while other sources indicated the death toll could be higher.
Other unconfirmed reports indicated that a number of KDF personnel who survived the ambush could have been taken as Prisoners of War (POWs) by the Al-Shabaab.
The BBC report further said residents had seen an Al-Shabaab flag flying at the KDF camp and bodies of dead soldiers paraded through the town.
In the counter-offensive, KDF carried out airstrikes at Al-Shabaab camps where the attack was planned, using helicopter gunships and fighter jets.
The militants also suffered massive casualties, according to area residents who posted information, which could not be verified, on Twitter .
“An El-Adde resident told the BBC by phone that he had heard a loud explosion at about 5:30am followed by heavy gunfire. We then saw an Al-Shabaab fighter in the town.
We also saw Kenyan soldiers fleeing from the camp. At the moment the camp is in the hands of Al-Shabaab. We can see military cars burning and dead soldiers all over the place.
There are no civilian casualties but most people have fled the town,” the BBC reported.
An al-Shabaab official was also quoted by the BBC saying that its fighters used a car bomb at the entrance of the KDF base to launch the attack.
AL SHABAAB ATTACKS
KDF deployed its troops to Somalia in October 2011 to respond to numerous Al-Shabaab infiltrations into North Eastern during which security personnel were attacked.
There was also kidnapping of tourists in resorts in Lamu before the government deployed the troops to fight the terror organisation on its own soil.
One of the tourists David Tebbut, a Briton, was killed at Kiwayu luxury village in September 2011,and his wife Judith taken away by terrorists to Somalia.
A week later a French woman Marie Dedieu was abducted at Manda.
In earlier incidents, Al-Shabaab raided Dadajabula police post in 2009, took away arms and freed suspects.
There was another raid at a General Service Unit camp in Liboi the following year.
Two Kenyan soldiers were also kidnapped on the border in 2009, and they have never been accounted for since. The initial tactic was to create a buffer zone in Jubaland which would be a peace zone between Somalia and Kenya.
The incursion was dubbed Operation Linda Nchi and six months later was integrated into the United Nations backed African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom).
Kenyan troops were assigned sector 2, which includes the sea port of Kismayu, which was Al-Shabaab's headquarters and commercial capital before KDF troops landed there in an amphibious operation.
There are over 4,000 Kenyan troops in Somalia serving under Amisom.