The Chief of Kenya’s Defence Forces on Sunday said Al-Shabaab used three vehicles loaded with explosives to attack Kenyan soldiers at their camp in Somalia on Friday.
Even as he revealed details of the attack, General Samson Mwathethe warned that Kenyan soldiers would be ruthless in their retaliatory attacks.
“We will fight them deep in their hideouts, we will smoke them out of their caves and we will follow them to the end in honour of every drop of blood our Kenyans,” he warned at Wilson Airport in Nairobi where he and Defence Cabinet Secretary Raychelle Omamo received four soldiers injured in the attack.
Gen Mwathethe said the KDF had launched an offensive against the terrorist group within 48 hours of the initial attack using both ground and air forces and that a search-and-rescue operation had been launched.
SEARCH AND RESCUE MISSION
“As we speak, the search, rescue and recovery operation is ongoing as a matter of priority and has been ongoing for the past 72 hours. We have also pursued the enemies and done so effectively through concerted efforts of our land and air assets and severely degraded them,” he said.
The military boss described the search-and-rescue operation as delicate, saying that KDF had information that some soldiers were being used as human shields.
“We will not allow any further casualties,” he said.
Although he acknowledged the public's demand to be told how many soldiers had been killed in the raid, he declined to divulge the number, only reiterating the words of President Uhuru Kenyatta, who on Friday said the blood of the fallen Kenyan heroes would not be shed in vain.
Journalists were not allowed to interview the four injured soldiers, one of whom was in a serious condition.
The four were airlifted to Wilson in two civilian planes. Three were able to walk on their own but the fourth was in a wheelchair. All then boarded waiting ambulances and were taken to the Armed Forces Memorial Hospital.
Gen Mwathethe said other injured soldiers were being treated at a KDF hospital in Wajir. Those who require specialised treatment would be flown to Nairobi, he added.
Describing the attack, Gen Mwathethe said three vehicles were driven into the KDF and Somalia National Army camps, and were followed by several suicide attackers.
He only said that the attackers were resisted, that there were casualties on both sides, and that the families of slain soldiers were being contacted directly before the information could be made public.
He described the number of soldiers at the camp at the time of the attack as a “company size force”.
There were discrepancies between the information released by the KDF and that provided by the Somalia government.
Whereas the KDF said a Somalia National Army (SNA) camp had been attacked at the same time as its camp, Somalia’s foreign affairs minister Abdusalam Omer denied reports that the SNA camp was raided.
On Sunday, neither Gen Mwathethe nor Ms Omamo said whether there were casualties at the SNA camp.
The military boss only said: “The attack on our soldiers has not diminished KDF resolve or capabilities to confront the enemy. Our troops will continue engaging the terrorists.”
Ms Omamo sent condolences to the families of the fallen soldiers and expressed gratitude for the support showed by Kenyans on social media.
At the weekend, Kenyans used Facebook and Twitter to express solidarity with the KDF. On Twitter, #IStandWithKDF was one of the top 10 most commented-on topics.
The support was a recognition of the efforts and sacrifices that Kenyan soldiers had shown in defending the country, its borders and freedom.
Ms Omamo said that despite the attack, the KDF would continue to tackle the enemies of peace and freedom and would not relent.
The Defence Cabinet secretary said support centres to help the families of the affected had been set up at the KDF barracks in Eldoret, Gilgil and at the Armed Forces Memorial Hospital in Nairobi.
She asked Kenyans to pray for the families that had lost their loved ones and urged the public to respect their privacy.
“This attack will not rest unanswered and with the help of our allies, will be responded to decisively. The atrocious attack will not dampen the determination of our soldiers even in the face of terror and they will continue being in Somalia for the defence of our nation. We are proud of Kenyans for standing firm with them,” she said.
Ms Omamo also asked Kenyans to be patient and united and unbowed in the face of the attack.
She pledged that once information on the casualties had been gathered and verified, Kenyans would be updated but the priority was now being given to families of those who had died.