- The bombs were massive: General Mwathethe said there were three Vehicle-Borne Improvised Explosive Devices. One got into the centre of the Kenya Defence Forces camp and was exploded and the two more blew up inside the camp in the course of the attack. “If you can imagine that one Vehicle-Borne went through the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi did that damage, you can imagine three of those in that small defensive position,” he said. Al Shabaab clearly have the capability to collect material and assemble it into ammunition that has a big impact.
- The impact was devastating: “I am aware that most of you are interested to know the figures. I’d like you to appreciate the briefing already given on the magnitude of this attack and therefore the need for proper identification of our fallen heroes, which in some cases will require DNA tests.” DNA testing takes long as samples have to be taken from the families first and then compared with that taken from the dead. It is basically a case of trial and error as they are basically checking whose genetic material matches with the samples available.
- Troops were probably not used to the environment and the terrain: General Mwathethe confirmed that they had just rotated into the deployment. They had also gone through the routine pre-deployment training although that is nothing like the real deal.
- We cannot be sure about whether the troops knew something was coming. “This is something that is yet to be verified. There is intelligence in the air every other day but I cannot say at the moment that there was specific intelligence for this attack,” said General Mwathethe. There has been talk from a Somalia National Army officer in charge of the Gedo region that the KDF had been informed about the imminent attack. The Board of Inquiry set up, and already on the ground as the CDF said, would help establish whether this is true.
- Al Shabaab are in possession of a serious load of arms, ammunition and equipment: The folks on the other side routinely carry a camera on these sort of missions and on Wednesday began putting up photographs of their exploits at El Adde. Among the equipment taken were Armoured Personnel Carriers, Land Rovers, trucks as well as armoured fighting vehicles. There is also a load of very bad images that would do you no good to look at. Gen Mwathethe said sending assistance by air, usually the game-changer when it comes to Al Shabaab- was ruled out because the fellows had also mounted anti-aircraft guns, probably the same they had taken from KDF.
Like last Friday, they struck at dawn, had amassed fighters and equipment beforehand and were well prepared for what they knew awaited them. They were lucky last Friday.
At Hosingo on April 4, 2012, the battle lasted six hours, and they were not. The official report from the Kenya Defence Forces contained in their book on Operation Linda Nchi says about 800 Al Shabaab fighters were involved, 200 of whom died.
That was one of the biggest battles in Somalia in the course of the operation started in October 2011 by the KDF, who later rehatted and are now part of the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom).
The Battle of Hosingo was won mainly because KDF knew in advance that the enemy was on its way and had prepared appropriately, with the commander in charge there also able to ask for reinforcement immediately he knew it was necessary.
Even as they attacked in eight waves of 50 to 60 fighters each time, it was possible for reinforcements in the form of fighter jets and helicopters to be called in, which was a game-changer.
That, and the experience from other engagements in Somalia since the start of the operation, point at areas from which hard questions could arise as the search and rescue mission continues in El Adde and the mourning families start to receive the bodies of their fallen sons and brothers.
Before an attack on a Kenyan base, Al Shabaab engage in typical behavior; the switching off or destruction of transmission masts ran by Hormuud, a major mobile phone service provider in Somalia, information amongst the locals and some locals fleeing the villages nearby. They also attack from different directions.
Questions for the KDF personnel involved would centre on whether there was information, as there usually is, before the attack, whether that was acted upon and how it was done as well as how the camp responded to the attack. Was the camp exposed?
Yesterday, Voice of America reported the commander of Somali troops in Gedo region, General Abbas Ibrahim Gurey, alleging that the commander of the unit had been informed about the possibility of an attack hours before.
That would not come as a surprise as the Somalia National Army routinely share intelligence with the KDF. It would however raise questions on whether this intelligence was made available and whether and how it was acted upon.
Other reports from Somalia also suggest that the commander in charge of the camp and several other officers in the company that was in Somalia since January 2 had been taken hostage. While KDF has stated that Al Shabaab is using some of the captured personnel as human shields, it has revealed neither their identities nor ranks.
Military bases are organized such that the commander is in the most secure location, in the middle and surrounded by other personnel. The capture of the commander and other officers suggests that Al Shabaab were able to breach the defences.
This would have been made possible by the vehicles loaded with explosives and driven by suicidal militants that are reported to have started off the attack.
This would in turn mean that the vehicles got past the camp’s defence positions located on its perimeter, which would have been equipped well enough to stop them or warn others in the camp of the approach of unknown or foreign vehicles.
That the commander could be captured, and some soldiers had to flee the camp and the enemy was able to take KDF’s vehicles and arms indicates that the camp was completely overran, the first time that has happened since the start of Kenya’s mission in Somalia.
Military authorities will make most of the decisions in the matter, whether there are individuals to go before a court martial or otherwise but some questions are bound to be asked when the dust settles and the mourning ends.
With Amisom having declared that its mission continues and Kenyan authorities going by that, the catastrophe in El Adde can only help plan for the future, not lead to a withdrawal of KDF from Somalia.
*A shorter and edited version of this post was published by the Daily Nation on January 20, 2016.