12 July 2017 (SofoNews) – Two years after Kenya sent the army into Boni forest to flush out al Shabaab, the terrorists are still popping up to wreak havoc in Lamu county. They beheaded nine men in the latest brazen attack in Jima village on Saturday, after killing three policemen and several villagers in Pandanguo village on Wednesday last week.
This begs the question of whether Operation Linda Bondi has been a success or a failure.
The late Interior CS Joseph Nkaissery launched Operation Linda Boni in September 2015 to fight al Shabaab threats in Lamu county.
The operation was called following the 2014 Mpeketoni massacre, where more than 100 Kenyans were killed and others maimed after more than 200 heavily armed al Shabaab militants raided Mpeketoni village.
During that deadly attack, the al Qaeda-linked militants attacked hotels and a police station and brutally murdered residents. They targeted grown-up men.
After the attack, the hooded militants, who included foreign national jihadists, vanished into the expansive Boni forest.
As al Shabaab claimed responsibility, President Uhuru Kenyatta openly blamed local politics for the attack, saying there was intentional targeting of a certain ethnic group. Later on, al Shabab released a video of the attack.
Al Shabaab said the attack was carried out to avenge the presence of Kenyan troops in Somalia and the killing of Muslims.
Kenya sent its troops into Somalia in 2011 to help the UN-backed Somali government defeat the militants, who were sporadically attacking Kenya border towns and kidnapping tourists, government officials and foreign aid workers.
Latest statistics from Kenya military under the Africa Mission in Somalia (Amisom) indicate that the KDF controls large swathes of territory in Jubaland, which borders Kenya.
KDF spokesman Col Joseph Owuor said the forces have liberated over 100,000 square kilometres from al Shabaab and continues to maintain its presence in the captured territory.
“The major centres within the liberated area are Kismayu, Afmadow, Beles Qokani, Dobley, BurHache, Busar and Tabda, among other smaller towns. The KDF operates in unison with other Amisom troops,” Owour said.
Be that as it may, the attacks continue. On Wednesday last week, al Shabaab militants raided a police station in Lamu county’s Pandanguo village, broke into a dispensary and stole all the medicine, and killed several villagers.
The persistent attacks have sparked tension and questions over the achievement of the Linda Boni operation.
Reports indicate that more than 100 heavily armed al Shabaab members raided the police camp that had 19 officers, setting it ablaze. They also destroyed a Safaricom mast, disrupting communication among the security personnel based in Lamu.
The militants are said to have planted Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), which slowed down the government’s counter-security operation. The gun fight between al Shabaab and Kenyan police took over seven hours before security agents took over the area.
The militants are said to have escaped into the vast Boni forest on a Kenyan police land cruiser.
In a statement, National Police Service spokesman George Kinoti said three officers were killed, one seriously injured and 14 were unhurt in the dawn ambush.
“The attackers used rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) and other small arms in the attack, in which several tents were destroyed. Reinforcements sent to engage the enemy killed several terrorists,” Kinoti said.
On Saturday morning, yet another attack occurred in Jima village in Lamu.
Nine people are said to have been butchered by the al Shabab militia.
However, Coast regional police commandant Akello Odhiambo said only six men were killed in the attack. One was seriously injured.
At least 20 al shabaab members were involved in the attack, according to police and residents.
The victims, who were hacked to death, had deep knife injuries.
A security team comprising the KDF and RDU are combing the area, Odhiambo said.
“We have mobilised our security forces who are now combing the area and the Boni forest,” she told the Star.
Acting Interior CS Fred Matiangi has issued a 6.30pm-to-6.30am curfew.
Need for intelligence
The reemergent attacks rekindled memories of frequent terrorist attacks in the country between 2012 and 2014, especially in Lamu and Mombasa counties, carried out by the al Shabaab terror cell operating from the Boni forest.
At least 300 members of Jeysh Ayman, a local al Shabaab terror cell, uses the Boni forest cover as a base for recruiting and waging terror attacks in the Kenyan coast. They raided villages and lectured locals against tipping off the police.
A security expert, Retired Major Rama Mwang’ombe, says the operation in Boni must be sustained, but urged security officers to rely on intelligence gathering rather than engaging in jungle war with the militant.
Mwang’ombe opposes plans by the government to bomb the entire forest to flush out al Shabaab, saying it’s counterproductive.
“The operation is above average, and we commend families of security agents who have lost their lives in the ongoing operation. But the government machinery must invest in intelligence,” Mwang’ombe says.