Al-Shabaab fighters who have set up camp in Boni Forest, Lamu, remained a thorn in the flesh of Kenya in 2017 despite spirited efforts to flush them out.
The terrorists, who initially only operated from villages near the forest, seem to have expanded into new territory, making the Malindi-Lamu road almost a no-go zone.
The militants outwitted soldiers and police officers involved in “Linda Boni” operation by launching attacks that claimed the lives of many people.
One attack on July 13 led to the death of Public Works Principal Secretary Maryam el Maawy, the highest ranked government official to die in the attacks.
The PS had attended a meeting on the Lamu Port South Sudan Ethiopia Transport Corridor project at Huduma Centre in Lamu town before heading to Witu.
The fighters ambushed the car in which Maawy and six other occupants were travelling on the Mpeketoni-Lamu road.
SET CAR ABLAZE
However, they fled when a military helicopter hovered above, but not before setting the car ablaze. Soldiers took the injured PS to hospital.
Maawy’s 21-year-old nephew and trainee pilot Arif Kassim, her driver Godana Borani, police officer Ayub ole Ndoloni and a civilian died in the attack.
In August, three Tana River County officials were killed in another brazen attack, also orchestrated by al-Shabaab.
They were public works chief officer Sammy Mwakisha Tola, quantity surveyor Chrispine Dulu and an employee who was not immediately identified.
According to the Nation, at least 30 security officers, among them Kenya Defence Forces soldiers, were killed in attacks linked to al-Shabaab terrorists between May and November.
“The number of colleagues who have died could be more as we engage these people almost daily,” said a security source who requested anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter.
On May 31, nine security officers and a civilian died when their vehicles hit explosives in separate incidents.
The first explosion in Baure and Milimani areas killed a civilian and all seven policemen in an armoured personnel carrier.
On June 27, eight people — four policemen and four pupils — died when a Rapid Border Patrol Unit vehicle hit a land mine in Ota area on the Mararani-Kiunga road in Lamu East sub-county.
On July 5, two officers were killed while seven others went missing after terrorists raided a police station in Pandanguo.
Three days later, nine people were killed when the militants raided Jima village in Lamu West.
On August 3, three people were killed in a Shabaab attack on a bus in Witu.
The boda boda operator and his two passengers were killed when gunmen opened fire on the bus and a police escort car.
The bus was heading to Kipini from Malindi.
An occupant of a station wagon and a lorry driver were killed when their vehicles were sprayed with bullets in Gamba near Nyongoro On August 30.
The attackers also bombed and destroyed an electric pylon belonging to Kenya Power.
Earlier on August 18, four people were beheaded by suspected al-Shabaab militants at Maleli Village in Witu.
And on November 28, two AP officers died while three others were wounded when their vehicle was ambushed at Lango La Simba in Nyongoro, on the Lamu-Malindi road.
The policemen were escorting five buses from Lamu to Mombasa.
The increase in the deadly raids led Coast regional coordinator Nelson Marwa to call for the bombing of Boni Forest.
The administrator said al-Shabaab members had turned the woodland “into a playground, launching attacks on security personnel and civilians at will”.
Despite bombing some parts of the dense forest and destroying a number of militia camps, the attacks did not stop.
Recently, details emerged on the group’s new operational tactics.
Officials said the terrorists were using women as spies in areas targeted for attacks.
Security officers in Galmaghala, Ijara, Bodhei, Milimani, Basuba, Mararani, Ishakani and Kiunga villages said they had no option but to send women out of the villages.
Police, administrators and military chiefs have, in the meantime, expressed confidence they will emerge victorious in their war against al-Shabaab.
In a recent interview, Coast Police Commander Larry Kieng said efforts were in place to ensure the fighters were dealt with.
“We have been grappling with the problem but we need cooperation from residents, especially those in Boni and its surroundings,” Mr Kieng told the Nation.
“We are here to ensure the region is safe and we will do that by all means.”
Despite the assurances, some security agents deployed to fight the group have complained of lack of proper equipment and provisions.
Some officers who lost their lives were travelling in armoured personnel carriers, vehicles that were meant to be bullet proof and able to withstand road mines and other explosives.
Lamu residents hope security forces will be more successful in their bid to defeat the terrorists this year.