We shall hunt down and destroy you, the lives of our soldiers you killed shall not be in vain,” Kenya’s top-most military general told Somalia’s Al Shabaab terror cells.
Paying tribute to the fallen heroes, whose number is yet to be disclosed, Chief of Defence Forces General Samson Mwathethe rallied the remaining Kenyan troops with the declaration the country was proud of them and remains unbowed.
Mwathethe spoke Sunday as he joined Defence Cabinet Secretary Raychelle Omamo in receiving soldiers injured during the Friday morning attack inside Somalia, at Wilson Airport in Nairobi. He declared the country will avenge for every drop of blood shed by the terrorists, who attacked a Kenya Defence Force (KDF) base in El-Adde, Gedo.
The tough-talking General further asserted the blood of the fallen heroes would not be shed in vain even as he disclosed that some of the Kenyan soldiers were still being held captive by the terrorists, who were using them as human shield.
Addressing the media when he received four survivors of the terrorist attack, who were flown to Nairobi for treatment, Mwathethe also warned: “We will fight them deep in their hideouts, we will smoke them out of their caves and follow them to the end in honour of every drop of our Kenyans,” he added.
At the same time, Ms Omamo disclosed that more than 80 KDF personnel were affected when Al-Shabaab militants attacked their base in Somalia.
The CS revealed some of the soldiers had not yet been traced and a search-and-rescue mission was in the process in the area. Omamo said the attack was carried out by terrorists using vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices commandeered by suicide bombers. “The soldiers affected by the attack are a company size force,” said Omamo.
She did not reveal if they were considered dead, missing or injured. In the military, a company is a unit, typically consisting of 80–250 soldiers and usually commanded by a major or captain. Omamo said a search, rescue and recovery operation has been going on since the attack and would continue till all those affected were recovered.
Mwathethe and Omamo said the search and rescue mission may take time and pleaded for patience from the families of the affected and Kenyans at large.
“We ask you to continue to hold up our soldiers and their families in prayer and to respect their privacy during this time of sorrow and uncertainty,” said Omamo.
Soldier rescued As part of efforts to manage the crisis, Mwathethe announced counselling centres had been opened in Eldoret, Gilgil Barracks and Forces Memorial Hospital in Nairobi. There were reports that two other soldiers were rescued in the area and taken to Basura KDF camp.
One of them was injured in the leg.
The affected soldiers are from Eldoret and Gilgil. A few hours after the officials spoke, a soldier identified as Joseph Muganda with his injured colleague were rescued after two days in the bush.
Muganda had been calling his parents and seniors informing them he had an injured colleague and needed to be rescued. His father, a senior police officer, has been having sleepless nights since his son called on Friday morning, informing him of the attack. The son said he had a fully-loaded gun and was taking care of the injured colleague and he could see KDF planes hovering from where he was hiding.
“I can now eat. He has said he has been rescued and taken to a nearby Basura KDF camp,” said Shem Muganda, the father of the rescued soldier.
Muganda was among more than a dozen listed as still missing in action.
Also present at the airport was Army Commander Lieutenant General Leonard Ngondi and Kenya Airforce Commander Samuel Thuita. Omamo said the operation area inside Somalia, “was still very dangerous, volatile and fluid,” and soldiers were at risk of attacks.
Although there has been clamour for more information regarding the attack and anxiety among families with relatives fighting in Somalia, Omamo appealed for calm. “Information regarding casualties and the fallen soldiers is being presented to affected families directly as rescue, recovery, verification and consolidation operations continue,” she said. Mwathethe revealed how the attackers used three vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices to strike before being followed by suicide bombers.
They apparently arrived in three such vehicles, with one targeting a Somali National Army base while two went for KDFs. They ran past two main roadblocks before they stopped inside the camp, where there were other explosives.
Once inside, they were detonated before the suicide bombers went on with their mission of setting the camp on fire. The affected soldiers are from Eldoret and Gilgil Army bases and had just reported there to relief an older team that left.
Several soldiers are still missing and a few are thought to be in the hands of the terrorists as prisoners of war. Mwathethe cautioned that Al-Shabaab was now evolving and competing for space but added that would not undermine KDF’s operational and combat capability.
“For the brave men and women of KDF, as we stand for our core values and maintain our vision and mission, I commend you for the fighting spirit and professionalism you have displayed. Let us keep the momentum,” he said.