At least 68 Kenyan soldiers were killed in the Friday dawn attack on their camp by Al Shabaab militants in Somalia, according to military sources.
Two platoons consisting of 72 men survived after their commanders ordered that they retreat, in a possible tactical error in which the other two platoon took on the attackers, suffering massively before the camp was overrun. A company, in military terms, has four platoons, each with 36 men.
Top military sources divulged in confidence details of the horror ambush, the intense gunfight that followed and the efforts by the State to conceal the scale of the damage. Thirty bodies were moved from the Moi Airbase in Eastleigh, Nairobi to the Armed Forces Memorial Hospital aboard vans bearing civilian plates, three individuals with privileged access said in separate interviews.
More bodies were thought to have been received by the military throughout Friday night and Saturday morning from the destroyed Kulbiyow camp. “It was a horrendous scene,” one of the officers told local media, adding that the attack closely mirrored last year’s ambush at El Adde, where 173 soldiers were killed.
Military helicopters brought in the bodies to the airbase which is across the city before being moved by road to the mortuary, ostensibly to reduce any contact and information regarding the losses. Actual losses from the Kolbiyow attack were more than what the terror group — known for exaggerating its successes—had earlier reported at 57. It was a rare understatement, perhaps on account of not having enough space and time to assess the damage caused as the distress calls were promptly responded to.
Men drawn from the 75 Kenya Rifles (KR) in Embakasi had only last month been withdrawn from the camp, which is close to the Kenyan border, to be replaced by platoons from Mariakani Barracks — known in the Kenyan military circles as 15 KR. KDF said only nine soldiers, two officers and seven servicemen, died in the Kulbiyow attack in a statement sent out at about 8.30 pm on Friday.
It has since emerged that the statement was sent when more than a dozen bodies had been received at Moi Airbase. Our sources, who could not be named because military protocol does not allow them to speak to the media, said KDF took over the camp last night after two platoons overpowered the militants with backup from air and land forces called in from Kenya.
At least 70 Al Shabaab militants were reported to have been killed in the fierce fighting before the camp was recaptured by KDF. It all started at about 5 am on Friday when two vehicles filled with powerful explosives were driven by suicide bombers into the barrier leading to the camp. The explosion ripped through the camp, tearing down the sack-filled barricades.
Tens of militants on pick-up trucks fitted with heavy artillery, stormed in and opened fire on the soldiers. Unlike in the El Adde ambush, two commanders ordered their troops to retreat and take cover before making a formation to take on the enemy. It is military tradition to stick to your platoon and take instructions only from your commander. This is how men who may have been together were separated, and possibly the difference between life and death.
Details of how far the platoons that retreated made it still remain scanty, but the commanders were in constant communication with their seniors in Kenya who sent through the back-up forces. After the special forces arrived, the officers returned to the camp, which had by then been overrun and burnt. There are also unconfirmed claims that the militants escaped with vehicles and arms confiscated from the camp before the backup arrived. Generally, the militants replenish their food and arms stocks when staging such attacks.