By Eric Criscitelli
On January 27, the Shabab militant group attacked Kulbiyow, a Kenyan military base, killing at least 68 soldiers. The attack began at dawn and was caused by two trucks armed with explosives. The trucks rammed into the barrier and the explosion ripped through the base, destroying the barricade. According to Captain Nur Muhidin, a Somali national army officer stationed in Kulbiyow, an intense firefight lasted for about an hour before the militants secured the base. Xusen Dhere, a witness of the attack, said the militants took the ammunition and trucks that were left by the military forces and retreated, reports BBC News.
The Shabab has previously attacked peacekeeping missions in Somalia in efforts to topple the government in Mogadishu. The African Union and Somali troops pushed the Shabab out of most urban strongholds, including Mogadishu, in 2011, but have struggled to keep smaller areas safe from attacks. According to Reuters, the Shabab had recently carried out a similar attack in the town of el-Adde killing more than 100 soldiers, although the military did not give details of casualties in the attack. Kenya, along with members of the African Union, has contributed military assistance to remove the Shabab from Somalia.
Witnesses have confirmed claims on the number of Kenyans killed after the battle this January, although there is no consensus regarding the number of dead soldiers. According to DW, a representative of the Shabab called Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab said at least 51 Kenyan soldiers died in the attack; he did not report the number of militants killed. A Kenyan military spokesperson, on the other hand, said that 70 militants died. Kenyan military officials have dismissed the claims, instead of reporting that the “soldiers repulsed the terrorists, killing scores” and that the base was not overrun, The Guardian says.
One officer told the Standard “it was a horrendous scene,” referring to the aftermath of the Kulbiyow attack. The Armed Forces Memorial Hospital received 30 bodies from Moi Airbase in Nairobi, and15 wounded soldiers were airlifted to Nairobi for treatment. Now, Kenyan forces are pursuing the rest of the Shabab’s fighters. Kenya’s Defense Ministry released a statement saying an “intensive pacification operation is underway” and KDF soldiers will “continue to relentlessly pursue the terrorist to ensure peace and security of our country”, BBC reports.
Shortly after the attack on the Kulbiyow, the Shabab attacked a hotel in Mogadishu killing at least 28 people. Somali forces are supposed to take on more responsibilities as the African Union Mission in Somalia is expected to withdraw by the end of 2020. The recurrent Shabab attacks and security concerns have delayed the presidential elections, which could be crucial in helping the nation recover from decades of civil war.
With the recent presidential transition in the United States, Donald Trump has yet to signal any firm direction on policy in Africa. Analysts believe Trump will prioritize security issues, particularly the fight against the Shabab, Al Qaeda, and affiliates of the Islamic State group, such as Boko Haram in Nigeria.
Lieutenant Colonel Paul Njuguna of the Kenyan Defense Force addressed the aftermath of the attack in a public statement: “The KDF soldiers remain vigilant and will continue to relentlessly pursue the terrorist to ensure peace security of our country Kenya”.