A Kenyan army unit reportedly decimated in an attack by al-Shabab militants last Friday had received warning of the assault, according to a Somali general.
The commander of Somali troops in the Gedo region, General Abbas Ibrahim Gurey, tells VOA’s Somali service that the unit’s commander was given word of a possible attack hours before the first bullet was fired.
“It was information we knew, the information was received, and they were ready for it,” Gurey said in a telephone interview Sunday.
The Gedo region’s deputy governor has said the attack killed at least 40 Kenyan soldiers stationed at an African Union base in El-Adde, a town in southern Somalia, near the border with Kenya.
Kenyan soldiers have been in Somalia since 2011, helping the AU mission, known as AMISOM, fight al-Shabab. Kenyan officials are investigating what happened in Friday’s attack.
A Somali official says initial warning came from civilians who saw al-Shabab massing men in the area for days.
“They [Shabab] often sneaked into the town at night and they were well aware of the AU base,” said a journalist in the region who asked not to be named for security reasons.
The attack had all the hallmarks of recent major al-Shabab operations a suicide explosion at the gate followed by hundreds of heavily armed militants storming the base from different directions.
Al-Shabab had already done this twice before – first in Leego town on June 25 in which 54 Burundians were killed, and again on September 1 when 19 Ugandan troops were killed.
Al-Shabab says it killed more than 100 Kenyan troops in El-Adde. Neither AMISOM nor the Kenyan government has released a death toll, but the Kenyan secretary of defense said the soldiers affected by the attacked are “a company size force.”
Military experts define a company as having between 80 and 200 soldiers, still a small number to withstand several hundred heavily armed militants charging forward.
Former Somail army colonel Mohamed Ibrahim Guber says AMISOM’s strategy of establishing bases across southern Somalia has “failed.”
“These attacks show AU troops are not forging relationship with locals,” he said. He says this is putting them at a disadvantage because they are unable to get information about potential attacks from al-Shabab.
Paul D. Williams is an associate professor of international affairs at The George Washington University in Washington and has written about the African Union Mission in Somalia.
He agrees that after three successive catastrophic attacks, AMISOM faces “difficult choices.”
“First, can AMISOM adequately defend all of its current bases, including those in the newly recovered settlements?” he asked.
“Second, with the Somali National Army and federal government largely failing to provide the necessary stabilization programs in the recovered settlements, AMISOM must decide where to retain its forces and where to pull back.”
He says these brazen attacks on military garrisons have forced the AU to give up several newly recovered towns, a move which he says “angered many locals in settlements where AMISOM forces have arrived but then subsequently vacated.”
“AMISOM must find a way to significantly degrade al-Shabab’s combat capabilities and separate the militants from the local population rather than focus on taking more and more territory,” he said.
AMISOM is vowing that the El-Adde attack won’t derail its mission in Somalia.
Our resolve can only be rejuvenated, to fight on until Somalia is freed of all elements of terror,” according to Ambassador Francisco Madeira, who serves as the special representative to the chairperson of the African Union Commission (SRCC) for Somalia.
Guber, however, says the key lesson from the El-Adde attack is examining the relationship between the locals and AMISOM forces, with a view toward building a local military force that shoulders the security operations.
Colonel Guber says AMISOM and the international community must train and equip the Somali army and let it do the counterterrorism work in its own country. “That is what I would do if I were the AMISOM commander.”