Fresh details have emerged of how Kenyan soldiers fought gallantly for at least six hours on Friday to ward off a deadly attack from hundreds of Al-Shabaab militants during a deadly dawn attack at a base in Kulbiyow, Somalia.
This came as top military brass were said to have been in a crisis meeting Saturday.
KDF Spokesman Lt-Col Paul Njuguna confirmed the bodies of the dead soldiers had been flown to Nairobi while the injured were receiving treatment at the Forces Memorial Hospital.
“The next of kin of the fallen heroes as well as the injured soldiers were notified and plans to support them were established in line with the Defence Forces Standing Orders,” a statement sent last night said.
On Saturday, Defence Cabinet Secretary Raychelle Omamo and senior military officers had visited the Defence Memorial Hospital to comfort the recuperating soldiers as well as address the next of kin of the dead soldiers.
Two senior KDF commanders, the General Officer in charge of Eastern command Major-General Benjamin Biwott, and the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom) Sector 2 commander Brigadier William Shume, were said to have visited the Kulbiyow camp to boost the morale of the Kenyan troops.
However, it remained unclear how many KDF soldiers, operating under Amisom, died in the attack.
A KDF statement put the number at nine with 70 Al-Shabaab militants killed while the terror group’s propaganda messages claimed at least 50 Kenyan soldiers had been killed.
Information obtained by the Sunday Nation from multiple military sources, who spoke in confidence, paints a bloody picture.
Al-Shabaab first targeted the camp using two vehicles filled with explosives and driven by suicide bombers at almost 5am – using tactics similar to those applied during the El-Adde attack in January last year.
These suicide explosions were followed by hordes of attackers who were repulsed by the soldiers mostly drawn from the Mombasa-based 15KR Infantry Battalion.
ARRIVAL OF BODIES
And when it appeared the militants were almost overrunning the camp, KDF reached out for help from their superiors in Nairobi.
It took hours for a rescue team from Hulugho Camp, at least 20 km away, to reach their comrades as the militants had planted explosives on various routes.
All this time, the gallant soldiers, numbering just about 120, fought tooth and nail to keep the attackers at bay despite being outnumbered while waiting for reinforcements.
At some point, sources say, the besieged KDF soldiers and their counterparts from the Somalia Army tactically withdrew from the camp in order to reduce the number of casualties.
A distress signal was also sent to Boni Forest and Manda camps on the Kenyan side but the response teams had to abandon their vehicles at some point and walk on foot to Kulbiyow due to landmines on the routes leading to the camp under attack.
By the time air support arrived shortly before noon, the quick response teams from nearby camps had managed to repulse the attackers.
Initially, KDF admitted its soldiers had been pinned down.
At the end of the day, it reported that at least 70 Al-Shaabab militants were killed.
“Our soldiers repulsed the terrorists who had tried to access the camp using a Suicide Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device,” Lt-Col Njuguna, who is KDF’s spokesman, said in a statement.
Bodies of the dead soldiers arrived at about six pm on Friday evening at the Moi Airbase and were transported under tight security to a nearby funeral home while the injured were taken to Forces Memorial Hospital in a convoy of military ambulances.
This was a completely different strategy from the El-Adde attack at a similar time last year where bodies landed at the Wilson Airport and the press were invited to cover.
Among the dead are two senior officers at the camp and seven servicemen according to KDF.
The Sunday Nation has established there were about 120 KDF soldiers in camp while 60 had gone on patrol on the night of the attack.
All the soldiers at the camp were barely three weeks into the mission having arrived at the turn of the New Year and it is believed Al-Shaabab thought they would catch them off-guard like during the El-Adde attack last year.
But, unlike El-Adde where there was a communication breakdown, Kulbiyow, which is close to the Kenyan border, has both Airtel and Somali’s Hormud cellular networks.
The military also has its own communication channels which were used to call for help.
The military says it had prior intelligence Al-Shaabab would attempt an attack on a Kenyan camp to commemorate the first anniversary of the El-Adde battle and was, therefore, on high alert.
“El-Adde was the way it was because we didn’t know. This time they only managed to reach the camp because they used a different route not that the soldiers were not aware,” said our source.
On Saturday, the military confirmed it was in full control of the camp.
“Since yesterday, offensive ground and air operations have been intensified targeting Al-Shaabab camps and pacification of the area has been undertaken.”
The statement added: “KDF soldiers at Kulbiyow Camp remain vigilant and undeterred. They bravely continue to relentlessly pursue the terrorists to ensure peace and stability of the region as well as support Amisom in stabilising Somalia.”
The particular Al-Shaabab unit that attacked the KDF camp is said to be the Saleh Nabhan brigade, one of its most lethal units named after the leader of Al-Qaeda in Somalia who was killed in 2009.
The Saleh Nabhan group are believed to be responsible for the El-Adde attack, the December 2014 Mandera quarry workers attack and the 2010 Kampala attacks.
On Wednesday, seven Al-Shaabab fighters were killed as the Kenya Defence Forces captured Badhaadhe township in Somalia.
The troops, who were on a routine patrol, successfully launched an offensive operation on the militants who had taken control of a mosque and a police station in the area.
Two bombs and eight AK-47 assault rifles belonging to Al-Shaababwere captured and it is thought the militants were hungry for revenge.
Hours after they were beaten in Badhaadhe, the militant group reportedly executed a number of people accused of being spies.
Additional reporting by Nyambega Gisesa.