Kenyan soldiers deny claims of hiding during Shabaab attack

Thursday January 23 2020

Smoke billows from the Manda-Magogoni naval base in Lamu County, Kenya, on January 5, 2020 after a Shabaab attack. KDF and the NYT have differed over what happened during the attack. PHOTO | FILE


Divergent issues have emerged over the role of the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) during al-Shabaab attack on Manda Bay military base in Lamu, coastal Kenya.

The KDF on Wednesday rubbished an article by TheNew York Times, which reported that Kenyan forces assigned to defend the Manda Bay military base “hid in the grass” as Al-Shabaab fighters carried out a devastating attack earlier this month.


The US newspaper further suggested that Kenyans stationed at the Manda Bay might have provided information which assisted the militants to carry out the attacks.

“The performance of the Kenyan security forces during and after the battle frustrated American officials,” the Times says in a story compiled by four of its journalists.

A report of a Joint Board of Inquiry being carried out by Kenyans and Americans is yet to be finalised.


“It is strange on where the news report is coming from and why at this time when we are waiting for the investigations to be concluded. We can only have a correct and factual account of the happenings once the report is finalised,” Military Spokesperson Colonel Paul Njuguna told Nation.

The joint Board of Inquiry was initiated days after the US Ambassador to Kenya Kyle McCarter and the Kenya Navy Commander Major General Levi Mghalu visited the base following the attack.


Further, senior military officials who spoke on condition of anonymity told Nation that the narration of events by the New York Times was “far from the truth.”

“Camp Simba is an American facility on Kenyan soil used for security operations. It is manned and secured by Americans,” the source said.

According to the source, the primary protection of the base was the primary responsibility of the Americans as they say that it’s their operation area.

“What happens at the camp is confidential. To date, the Americans have remained mum on the number of personnel present at the camp during the attack. They are the ones who run the show at the base.”

At one point, the report adds, the Kenyans announced they had captured six Shabaab attackers, but they all turned out to be bystanders and were released.

But this version of narration is being disputed by Kenya’s Department of Defence (DoD) which puts some blame of the poor response to the attack on the Americans.

“Americans response after the attack was not swift. It is Kenyans soldiers who were the first responders to the attack during which they managed to fell five al-Shabaab attackers,” a senior source at DoD said.


The officers also took a swipe at the US government for claiming to have a “capable force” yet some of its most highly trained men were unable to detect the access of the camp by the militants.

“Those forces are typically not as capable as US forces, and are easier for terrorist groups to infiltrate,” Congressman Michael Waltz, a former US Army Green Beret who served in Africa, is quoted as saying of the Kenyan troops.

Investigators are probing whether the Shabaab assault team had help from Kenyan staff at Manda Bay, the Times notes, attributing that information to a “person briefed on the inquiry.”

Some Kenyan forces did perform competently, the story suggests.

Several Kenyan Rangers who were being trained by US instructors accompanied a US Marine Special Operations team in a counterattack on the Shabaab insurgents, the Times recounted.

But those US and Kenyan units were based at Camp Simba, another base about a mile from the Manda Bay airfield, where the attack was focused.


The Shabaab fighters thus had ample time to disperse, according to the Times account, with several believed to have crossed the nearby border back into Somalia.

Five Shabaab members were killed in the hours-long attack along with three Americans. The incident proved both embarrassing and alarming to US military officials.

The US units themselves did not respond with maximum efficiency, the NYT notes.

Some US troops at the base “were corralled into tents, with little protection, to wait out the battle,” the story states. And it took eight hours before a badly burned US contractor was flown to Djibouti for treatment.

Defence officials in Washington were so startled by the success of the Shabaab attack that they immediately dispatched 100 airborne troops to secure the base, the Times says.

It adds that Army Green Berets from Germany were flown to the large US installation in Djibouti “in case the entire base was in danger of being taken by the Shabaab.”


The January 5 attack began after a Shabaab squad had penetrated “a poorly defended fence line” around the base, the story says.

The militants had apparently staked out the base well in advance and had timed their attack based on their observation of the patterns followed by US forces at Manda Bay, the Times states.

The Shabaab fighters struck a taxiing US surveillance plane with a rocket-propelled grenade, killing two pilots working as contractors with L3 Technologies, a US firm that helps conduct reconnaissance missions around the world.

“In the ensuing chaos,” the report says in its reconstruction of the attack, “they made quick work of a significant portion of the American fleet of aircraft — a mix of six surveillance aircraft and medical evacuation helicopters on the ground at the time.”

“The Shabaab fighters also destroyed a fuel storage area, rendering the airfield next to useless. The attack most likely cost the Pentagon millions of dollars in damages.”

Following the attack, efforts have been made to fortify the base from such possible attacks.