KDF soldier narrates horrifying experience during Al-Shabaab raid in Somalia
NAIROBI, Kenya - Four years down the lane, the Kenya Defense Forces [KDF] team is yet to issue a comprehensive report on what transpired at El-Adde base camp, where dozens of soldiers were killed.
Since then, KDF troops have remained in Somalia, despite mounting pressure back at home to have them withdrawn for security purposes.
Recently, President Uhuru Kenyatta insisted that "we shall not move until the enemy [Al-Shabaab] is crushed completely."
Even more shocking, Chief of Defense Forces General Samson Mwathethe, has failed to issue a comprehensive statement over the raid, the most shocking in Kenyan history.
Soldiers caught flat-footed
But in "The Soldiers Legacy", Lance Corporal Erick Lang'at, a survivor of the attack paints a grim picture of what happened.
The D Company and 9 KR had been deployed to the base 15 days before the attack, as a routine rotational exercise by KDF.
And this means, virtually close to 240 soldiers at the camp were new in Somalia and had hardly learned various aspects including topography.
“At around 5.15 am on January 15, a vehicle’s headlights briefly flashed in the base’s direction and then turned off," he recalls in the book.
Even before the troops could respond, he notes, the driver drives directly to the center of the base before detonating a VIED, he notes.
Camp dismembered by Al-Shabaab
After a little silence, the militants hurled grenades and RPGs while opening fire indiscriminately within the base camp, the survivor says.
He said: “The blast had destroyed part of the operation base, leaving only one survivor in the immediate environs of the epicenter."
Within a few minutes, the camp had been dismembered as survivors regrouped to repulse the Al-Shabaab militants, who were determined to take over.
At that time, he notes, the militants were moving rapidly within the expensive camp shooting any life that was detected.
El-Adde base camp is found in the Gedo region, Jubaland. It has since been deserted by the KDF troops perhaps due to the attack.
He continues: “As if that was not enough, there were two follow-on blasts. When I came back to my senses, much of the operation base was in disarray."
"I saw a thick cloud of smoke and it was clear to me that several bunkers had collapsed. At that time I was bleeding in the right eyebrow.”
KDF survivors narrow escape
With the soldiers almost subdued, the survivors immediately crafted a strategy to exit the scene. The Al-Shabaab militants kept on increasing.
This, he says, went on despite the fact that many militants had also been killed by the KDF in the early morning intense fighting.
"Recognising that holding onto the defended locality was no longer tenable, the troops abandoned their positions in small groups to make it difficult for the enemy to pursue them,” Lang’at recalls.
The almost 40 survivors managed to escape in groups with some using thickets and other nearby roads, he says.
With communication absolutely impaired, the soldiers struggled to call for reinforcement as they sneaked into the unknown world.
But at some point, he recalls, he managed to locate the number of a senior military officer before the helicopter was deployed to rescue them.
“Luckily, communication went through and the rescue helicopters located us. I cried in relief when we landed in a Kenyan military camp along the common border with Somalia.”
Some survivors missing
El-Adde attack was the first raid on a Kenyan military base ever since Kenya deployed her soldiers to Somalia in 2011.
Approximately 200 soldiers died but Nairobi is yet to make public the report, four years after the attack took place in Somalia.
Lang'at said that at least seven of his colleagues who managed to escape from the camp cannot be traced to date.
But during the KDF day last October, Gen Mwathethe said that chances of the soldiers being alive are high, adding that they are being used as human shields.
Close to 3,000 KDF soldiers are in Somalia with the latest troops reporting to the Southern part of the war-torn nation on Tuesday.