NAIROBI, Kenya, Jan 21 – It was like déjà vu; we were once again in the same room with a power point presentation cued up and microphones set up to catch every word that would come out of the Chief of Defence Forces’ mouth. The only difference was the man who bore the title; Samson Mwathethe having taken over from Julius Karangi.
Kenya had once again come under an unexpected attack and the word “magnitude” came up again and again. Mwathethe, it seemed, appeared to psychologically prepare Kenyans for a huge loss.
The last time it was Westgate, and once again, Kenya had been caught flat-footed. Except this time it was the soldiers – who had come to our rescue the last time – who were the victims.
Mwathethe, as Karangi had done before him, took the media through a diary of sorts; he gave a blow-by-blow account of events as they occurred on January 15 when Al Shabaab militants stormed a Kenyan military base in El Adde, Somalia and killed a yet to be confirmed number of Kenyan servicemen.
But it was clear from the information Mwathethe provided that it was nothing short of a devastating blow to Kenya’s Defence Forces.
The events were broken down into days:
Mwathethe told how the first reports of the El Adde attack came in at 6.30am on Friday morning but could not be confirmed as the “comms” at the camp had been rendered obsolete by a vehicle bomb IED (VBIED). A term Kenyans have become intimately acquainted with since Kenya’s military incursion into Somalia in 2011.
An aircraft was then diverted to the area for surveillance and it was established that the camp was indeed on fire and fighting ongoing.
Reinforcements could however not be flown in as the terrorists had set up two anti-aircraft guns at a school near the camp.
And while Kenya is in Somalia as part of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), it was on its own for this fight; their benefactors lacking the resources to step in.
Air transportation out of the question, Kenya deployed the troops it had on ground in Wajir, Elwak and Mandera. But any hope they represented to their countrymen under siege was hours away. It took them 10 hours just to converge in Damasa and their progress forward wasn’t going to be a cakewalk.
They were going into enemy territory and had to contend with Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) and gunfire. A second, armoured, contingent had to be sent in.
Events as narrated by survivors, Mwathethe relayed, were much bleaker. The enemy came in through the Somalia base in not one VBIED but three. One of which was rigged to cut off all communication with the outside world.
The force of just one of the three explosions was equal to that which brought down the Cooperative Bank building during the 1998 US Embassy bombing in Nairobi – Kenya’s first brush with terror on a massive scale. (Two-hundred lives were lost in that attack).