The world on Saturday joined Kenya in mourning the death of its soldiers in Somalia even as mystery surrounded the Al-Shabaab terrorist attack on a military base.
The Kenya Defence Forces headquarters remained tight-lipped on the issue and top officers were said to be in closed-door meetings most of the day.
But security sources who spoke to the Sunday Nation in confidence attributed the silence to the confusion following the deadly assault on the El-Adde camp in Somalia on Friday.
“The area has not been recaptured (by Saturday) and it is not clear how many soldiers we have lost and how many are missing. This may take some time as we verify details,” the source said, confirming there could be “more than 50 dead”.
Leaders from across the political divide and Kenyans on social media paid tribute to the soldiers even as anxious families waited to be told about the fate of their loved ones.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon issued a statement calling for urgent measures to ensure that funding to terrorist groups is cut off as a way of paralysing their operations.
The attack is the single biggest hit that KDF has taken since Operation Linda Nchi started with an incursion into the war-ravaged neighbouring country in October 2011.
Mr Ban, through a spokesman, noted that details of the incident were still being verified.
“He affirms that this attack will not diminish the resolve of the United Nations to work hand in hand with the African Union and Amisom to support the people and Government of Somalia,” said the statement.
The UN Secretary-General’s stand echoed President Uhuru Kenyatta’s call on Friday in which he said the soldiers did not die in vain.
“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.
Opposition leader Raila Odinga said that the country had lost some of her best defenders following the attack on KDF troops serving a humane cause in Somalia.
“Their death confirms the danger we continue to face from extremists as a country and a region,” said Mr Odinga. “I wish to assure the families of the slain patriots that we mourn with them and we stand together at this moment of monumental grief.”
“As a nation, we must stand together in condemning this brutal and brazen attack on freedom.
“It is my hope that the world will stand with Kenya and offer all necessary support now and into the future as we take our place in the necessary but costly war against global terrorism,” he said.
This came as Amisom intensified its bombardment of areas occupied by the terrorists in a robust counter-offensive. Scanty details also emerged about the Al-Shabaab attack.
Military sources familiar with the operations of Amisom told the Sunday Nation that except for the timing, there has always been anxiety that the terrorists would launch an audacious attack against a military base.
Over the last one year, the terrorists, who have largely been on the run, have staged attacks on each of the contingents that make up Amisom.
Ethiopian, Burundian and Ugandan troops have all suffered losses. In the attacks, Al-Shabaab have thrived on the surprise factor, going by the information that filters through after the events.
They usually attack shortly after a rotation of soldiers. That was the case in attacks on Ethiopian, Burundian and Ugandan bases.
In Uganda’s case, the troops were a few months old when Al-Shabaab struck their camp in Janaale last September.
Ugandan authorities reacted furiously by sacking the Officer in Charge, Uganda’s Colonel Bosco Mutambi, who reportedly now faces a court martial back home in Kampala.
And the style of the attacks is also similar. The militants approach and access the bases by ramming at the gate with a vehicle full of explosives and following up with gunfire.
This was the case in Lego in June when they attacked Burundi troops, September (Janaale) when they attacked Ugandans and now reportedly in Gedo against Kenyan soldiers. The terrorists also appear to prefer attacking at dawn.
Last year they also attempted to, for the first time, attack a military base in Kenya but the soldiers in Lamu repulsed the terrorists and killed several.
After the Friday attack, the African Union through the special representative to Somalia Francisco Madeira strongly condemned the dawn attack and resolved to continue fighting the terrorists.
“Attacks such as this further demonstrate the vile nature of Al-Shabaab, whose sole purpose is to spread terror and continue the destabilisation of Somalia,” added the envoy. “Our resolve can only be rejuvenated, to fight on until Somalia is freed of all elements of terror.”
He condoled with “the families of the soldiers whose lives have been sacrificed for the cause of peace and stability in Somalia” and wished quick recovery to the injured.
Senate Minority Leader Moses Wetang’ula also condemned the “cowardly attack on KDF’s troops in Somalia” and said it was unacceptable.
Mr Wetang’ula said it is now time to develop an all-inclusive strategy that will dismantle terrorism networks so that Kenyans can live without the fear of losing lives and properties because of terrorism.
Former assistant minister Peter Kenneth said: “I’m heart broken by the loss of KDF soldiers in Somalia. These brave individuals gave their lives to defend the Kenyan flag, the Kenyan people and our Republic and they have my eternal respect and gratitude as a proud citizen of this country.”
Somalia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Abdulsalam Omer said his government “shared the pain of the loss of our Kenyan brothers and sisters in arms who came to restore and advance hope and peace in Somalia as part of Amisom.”
“We express our deepest condolences to the families, friends and loved ones of those courageous soldiers who paid the ultimate price protecting our innocent civilians and strengthening institutions as well as safeguarding our progress against the evil that is terrorism,” said the Somalia minister. “Their sacrifice will never be forgotten and nor will it be in vain.”
The UN Security Council in a statement also condemned the attacks and called for urgent measures to prevent and suppress the financing of Al-Shabaab and any other terrorist groups in Somalia.
“All states need to combat by all means, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations and other obligations under international law, threats to international peace and security caused by terrorist acts,” he said.
NO TROOPS WITHDRAWAL
Despite pressure from a section of leaders and Kenyans to withdraw troops from Somalia, President Kenyatta stated categorically that together with its allies, the country will continue in Somalia to fulfill its mission, adding that those involved in Friday’s attacks would be hunted down.
Although the actual number of soldiers killed in the attack has not been verified, condolence messages from Kenyans from all walks of life dominated the social media with Kenyans expressing their frustration about the constant threats the country keeps receiving from Al-Shabaab.
There are conflicting figures on the death toll with some international agencies putting it at 63 while others claim it is more than 50 people.
Meanwhile, a section of women married to soldiers currently serving under Amisom expressed their anxiety on social media, with most of them seeking prayers and being hopeful that their spouses were safe. A family in Eldoret, which declined to be identified, also said they were waiting for information from KDF.