Paradigm shift for Kenya Defence Forces

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By Col. (Rtd) Geoffrey King’ang’i Muturi

The recent attack on KDF troops at Al-Ade in Somalia has come as a watershed for two main reasons. Firstly, our current mission and mandate under AMISOM is irrelevant to the reason that took us to Somalia in the first place. The positional defence posture which we have adopted in Somalia is both inappropriate and incapable of defeating the enemy. Secondly, the enemy we were facing five years ago has mutated in terms of its methods and doctrine.

There has also been an increase in cross-movement of troops, weaponry and tactics between terrorist theatres of war in other parts of the world. In order to resolve the problem therefore, KDF must adopt a ‘Home security’ paradigm, in which deployment will be both mobile and aggressive. They must also utilise our own assets for intelligence, air and sea cover, as well as use technology for intelligence and precision targeting.

When KDF entered Somalia in October 2011, they had a singular focus, that of degrading the Al-Shabaab terrorist group, that was increasingly gaining territory on the ground and sea. Besides numerous terrorist attacks at home, the group was also actively involved in pirating in the Indian Ocean. Consequently the economy was suffering due to investor flight and distortions occasioned by ransom dollars. Worse still there was an aggressive recruitment and radicalization of hundreds of Kenyan youths into Al-Shabaab. It was simply a question of time before the chickens came home to roost.

Kenya therefore did the only right thing. We sent our troops to Somalia, with a mandate to degrade the enemy and pre-empt the growing threat. The mission had three elements; degrading the enemy strength and freedom of action, cut off the source of funding and to stop the recruitment and radicalization of Kenyan youths.

The outcome of the operation was an outstanding success, which was acknowledged all over the world. In a short period of six months, we had pacified Jubaland, captured the strategic port of Kismayu and stemmed piracy in the Indian Ocean. Simultaneously we began the work of reconstruction and stabilization through the training of a new Somali National Army, the training and deployment of administrators as well as giving humanitarian support to the population. Cross border business resumed and normalcy returned to Jubaland. The international community took this chance to deploy a peace keeping mission under the African Union.

The deployment of AMISOM and subsequent the re-hating of KDF to become part of the AMISOM changed the mission, the players, the mandate and the methods used to prosecute the war. It should be noted here that AMISOM entered the theatre as a peace keeping mission. Peace keepers by design aim to maintain tranquillity after a cease fire. Consequently peace keeping troops are normally stationed in populated areas in order to re-assure and protect the population. The long and short of this, is that when the KDF crossed over to AMISOM, our troops were deployed away from our areas of interest. We lost the freedom to choose and pursue targets of our interest. More importantly we lost the use of key assets such as intelligence, air and sea cover. Our troops were not only vulnerable but also incapable of protecting us, in the manner that was expected by the citizens.

The second factor that has changed is the Al-Shabaab terrorist group. At the time we entered Somalia, we were dealing largely with a collection of untrained militias, who were inspired by local grievances and were borrowing their methods from the Al-Qaida. Over time, more seasoned fighters have been crossing over from other theatres of war in Syria, Iraq, Libya, and even Nigeria in order to fight in Somalia. After the death of Osama Bin Laden, another terrorist group in the name of Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) emerged. Unlike Al Qaida, its aims are to capture territory and administer it under sharia law and the virtual Islamic State known as the Caliphate.

The methods have thus changed from high visibility attacks preferred by Al Qaeda to capturing of territory and retaining it as Caliphate under the ISIL flag. Al Shabaab similarly changed both her methods and aims in order to mimic and gain recognition and support from the new terrorist outfit. Judging from the attacks in the last one year, they have been attempting to capture and establish a ‘Caliphate’. Its most glaring attempt were Mpeketoni, Mandera and Garissa. It is now evident to security observers that Kenya must change, or change will inevitably catch up with us in our slumber.

The first change is to STOP thinking in terms of ‘Peace Mission’ to ‘Home Security’ mission. The cardinal role of any military is to secure national security interest. This is true irrespective of which hat we are wearing. We must thus rethink our Grand Strategy, War Strategy as well as the Battle Tactics. This calls for troops redeploying, Aggressive Mobile Defence and use of intelligence, sea and air cover.

We must deploy close to the border. More importantly we must ‘deploy’ the Kenya population in support of war. The politicians and diplomats have performed poorly in this war. War diplomacy and war politics are critical to success. After all war is diplomacy by other means. And nations go to war in order to talk.

Finally, KDF must use technology, and in particular, the Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV). In as much as the KDF has effectively used these assets for limited border surveillance, we need to step up to acquire the latest weaponized “drones” with night capabilities. This is the way forward for future wars. For example, America, by use of this technology has eliminated more than 500 terrorist commanders in the last one year.

At a time when Amazon is planning to use UVAs to deliver packages to the doorsteps of her clients, we cannot argue that UVA technology is too advanced for us.

In conclusion “The Music is On”. We either retake the initiative or future generations will judge us harshly for dropping the ball, in our time.

– Col. (Rtd) Muturi is a former ADC to H.E The President and Convener of Home-Security ‘Virtual Group’.

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