Leaders in Somalia are questioning the recent abandonment of a military base in the country by Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) soldiers, saying the move will expose the country to Al-Shabaab threats.
The leaders say Kenyan troops started withdrawing from Somalia after moving out of Busar, KDF’s command centre in the northern sector of Jubaland, a town that was liberated in the first 100 days of their entry into Somalia.
On Tuesday morning, a contingent of troops made the final withdrawal from Busar. “Our people spotted the troops heading towards the Somali border. They destroyed their military base before leaving,” a senior politician from Gedo, who requested not to be named for fear of reprisals by both KDF and Somali security forces, told the Nation.
Busar is in Gedo region, where KDF recorded their greatest loss in history during the El Adde attack, in which about 200 soldiers died.
Mr Aw Hirsi, the Minister for Planning and International Cooperation in Jubaland, told the Nation that the withdrawal had left the people uncertain as to whether the departure of the Kenyans could secure the region lasting peace and tranquillity, or whether it could further land their weary souls into the hands of Al-Shabaab militants.
The KDF operated bases in Bardera, Busar and El Adde, all of which it has since abandoned. It also had forward operating bases FOBs in Taraka and Fafadun, from which it also withdrew.
The Kenyan troops withdrew from Bardera in September 2017, and it fell back into the hands of Al-Shabaab. The departure came just five days after it abandoned its base in Bardera.
On Tuesday, Department of Defence Spokesperson Bogita Ongeri and KDF spokesperson Paul Njoroge declined to respond to the Nation's queries on what necessitated the movement of KDF troops towards the border.
A senior official in the Department of Defence, who cannot be named because he is not authorised to speak to the press, said that the move is classified, and that they are awaiting a brief from the military intelligence before making any public statements.
The withdrawal comes after top Amisom commanders met in Mogadishu on February 16 and agreed on how to execute the mission’s new Concept of Operations (Conops), a document that provides a framework for implementing the AU troops’ gradual transition and final exit from Somalia.
The meeting was attended by Lieut-Gen Tigabu Yilma Wondimhunegn, the Amisom Force Commander, and his deputy Maj-Gen Charles Tai Gituai, a Kenyan in charge of Amisom’s operations and plans.
According to Mr Simon Mulongo, the Deputy Special Representative of the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, the Somalia Transition Plan will include the phased and conditions-based troops’ withdrawal and handing over of priority locations in Mogadishu to the Somali Security Forces, the degrading of Al-Shabaab, and supporting the Somali National Security Forces to take full charge of the country’s national security.
Mr Hirsi blamed the Somali government for not being keen on following the Conops strategy.
Experts in military and diplomatic circles advanced various reasons for the withdrawal of the troops from Gedo.
The first, they said, was logistical since it had become impossible to move troops and supplies in the vast area due to dwindling funding for Amisom operations.
“The decision for the drawdown in terms of Amisom troop numbers was supposed to be in 2017, but the Somali government has been asking for extensions due to fears that it might not be able to hold back the militants. The funding for the operations has also been dwindling,” Mr Edward Wanyonyi, a graduate of war studies from King’s College, London, said.
The second reason the experts advanced was political, and they cited the recent diplomatic spat between Kenya and Somalia over their maritime border and the oil blocks in the disputed area.
“By Kenya withdrawing from their positions, Al Shabaab could fill up the void and in turn upset Somalia as a way of getting back at them,” said Mr John Kariuki, a geopolitics expert.