KENYAN TROOPS IN SOMALIA: NO RETREAT, NO SURRENDER

The countdown to troops' withdrawal in December 2021 challenges Amisom to ensure stability against a resilient al Shabaab, which hit Kismayu last month. Ahead of polls next year, the stakes are high

KDF officers in operation. PHOTO/KDF

KDF officers in operation. PHOTO/KDF

For over 30 years, Hodhan Gulled never thought peace and stability would ever return to Somalia, her motherland. She has seen Somalia go through one crisis after another. This is from the Cold War to the civil war (1988-91); state collapse, clan war and famine (1991-92); and international humanitarian intervention in the 1990s.

She feels the tide is turning, though, thanks to interventions from neighbours such as Kenya. “We appreciate the work that is being spearheaded by the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom),” Gulled, a shop owner in Dhobley, said.

“I would wish that they remain around for some time as we are comfortable with their presence.”
Gulled, shop owner

The Amisom troops have diminished but not quite neutralised al Shabaab, who grabbed the headlines again last month with an attack on the capital Mogadishu. It killed 26 and left mayor Abdirahman Osman unconscious, before he died last Thursday in Doha, Qatar, where he was receiving treatment. 

But the widespread anarchy that characterised the country in the past is slowly being tamed. Amisom is not only reducing the territory under Shabaab control but also fostering much-needed development. Already, roads connecting Dhobley and Afmadow, in Somalia’s Lower Jubba region, are receiving a major facelift.

The project to rehabilitate the town’s infrastructure is being undertaken as part of the civil-military cooperation between Amisom and the local administration. It aims to facilitate the movement of people and goods while meeting the objectives of the mission’s Concept of Operations.

“Dhobley is one of the key population centres we are securing, and we cannot secure it if the roads and infrastructure are in bad shape,”
Brigadier General Dickson Ruto, Amisom Kenyan contingent Commander

DISRUPTING AL SHABAAB 

The AU troops also plan to secure Main Supply Routes and other major population centres outside Dhobley. Accompanied by the local administration, the Sector 2 contingent commander toured Dhobley town and discussed further areas of cooperation.

Ruto expressed Amisom's commitment to working harmoniously with civilians and local authorities in their Areas of Operation. He said the Kenya Defence Forces under Sector 2 in Dhobley are helping disrupt al Shabaab, creating favourable conditions for peace and stability. "We are also mentoring the Somali army as they prepare to take over," Ruto said.

He said he ensures Kenyan troops deployed to Somalia are safe. "We provide them (troops) with transport back home. We give them 30 days' leave to go home and see their families, and some two weeks' relieve for compassionate leave, such as funerals," Ruto said. He said steps have been taken to ensure the families of those who lost their lives are promptly compensated. Also, welfare centres have been established in all the bases to take care of troops' psychological needs and well-being.

The contingent commander said Kenyan forces seek to degrade al Shabaab together with the threats they pose to the country. They are destroying factories producing improvised explosive devices in Somalia.

Ruto defended his troops against allegations they were engaging in illegal activities, such as charcoal trade. "Sometimes people come with allegations. We took over Kismayu and no civilian was killed. Some quarters might not be happy about this," he said. "A tree with sweet fruits is thrown a lot of stones." He said the port of Kismayu is now firmly under the hands of the Jubaland administration.

KDF Officers distribute sweets to Somalia children in Dhobley. PHOTO/KDF

KDF Officers distribute sweets to Somalia children in Dhobley. PHOTO/KDF

KENYANS IN TERROR GROUP

Ruto is, however, a worried man. He is shocked by the number of Kenyans who have joined al Shabaab, urging them to come back to their senses. "One young person from Kenya surrendered to our forces some days to the holy month of Ramadhan. He told us there are many young Kenyans still with al Shabaab," he said. Nevertheless, Ruto said stability in Somalia has ensured that young people engage in worthwhile activities.

The mission's impact is being felt on the ground. When a poisonous thorn pricked into Gallad Abdi's five-year-old boy Abdi Dekon, she was lost for thought. Abdi believed that her son would only be cured by God's help. However, KDF forces who were combing through her village came to her rescues.

Dekon now receives medication at Dhobley Level 2 Hospital under the KDF. Equipped with modern equipment, the state-of-the-art hospital has ICU, HDU, theatre, laboratory, pharmacy, dental and psychological departments.  Interestingly, doctors, who also serve as soldiers, always have their weapons hanging on their necks as they serve patients. Here, things become bloody at any time.

Neurosurgeon Col Solomon Wahome said Dekon was amitted on May 8. Serious cases are evacuated to Nairobi, he said. To ensure those admitted are not linked to terror groups, a lot of care has to be taken. Deko's mother could not hide her joy following successful treatment of her son, who was on the verge of death.

KDF has also assisted in the establishment of a civilian hospital known as Dhobley Referral Hospital. On July 29, KDF donated equipment to the hospital. The equipment included essential medicals and a state-of-the-art infant incubator. Sector 2 pharmacist Maj Utiku Useru said health facilities are scarce in Somalia.

On April 30 last year, the AU Peace and Security Council endorsed the Somalia Transition Plan. Since then, Amisom has registered progress in implementing its mandate, guided by the transition plan.

The Somalia Transition Plan is a comprehensive guide developed by the Federal Government of Somalia and its partners on the transfer of security responsibility to Somali National Security Forces, ahead of Amisom's anticipated exit in 2021.

The council authorised the mission to deploy a minimum 1,040 police personnel until May 31, and set out strategic objectives to enable the gradual handover of security responsibilities to Somali security forces — contingent on their abilities, as well as progress on the political and security front — by December 2021. In the Lower Shabelle region, the Somali National Army (SNA) alongside Amisom forces have conducted operations that have seized territory and pushed back the terrorists.

Gallad Abdi at Dhobley Level 2 Hospital. PHOTO/KDF

Gallad Abdi at Dhobley Level 2 Hospital. PHOTO/KDF

VICTORIES GALORE

The most recent victories were recorded in Sabiid and Bariire. For seven years, Sabiid was a base where terrorists assembled explosives, but now it is liberated. The special representative of the Chairperson to the AU Commission Ambassador Francisco Madeira said the mission has reduced the threat posed by al Shabaab and other armed opposition groups in Somalia.

"With the help of Amisom and international partners, Somalia has registered milestones. The prevailing peaceful environment has enabled the country to establish functioning state institutions,"
Ambassador Francisco Madeira

Currently, Kenya Airways, Qatar Airways, Turkish Airlines and Ethiopia Airlines operate flights from Somalia, while a number of international organisations have set up residences in Somalia. Foreign embassies have also opened their doors.

In December 2017, Amisom began implementing the first phase of the transition plan by reducing troops by 1,000 personnel. In February this year, it further reduced by another 1,000 personnel. The UN Security Council, in its resolution 2472 ( 2019 ), adopted on May 31, authorised Amisom to maintain the current troop numbers until February 28, 2020. Madeira said the council authorised the deployment of 1,040 police personnel, including five formed police units.

"The police is critical to the stabilisation process, especially with the maintenance of law and order in the recovered areas," he said. 

Medical supplies to Dhobley General Hospital - KDF

Medical supplies to Dhobley General Hospital - KDF

Troop and police-contributing countries include Burundi, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda. Madeira said the Somali National University, the Mogadishu Stadium and the Jaale Siyaad military camp academy have been handed over to the Federal Government of Somalia in the first phase of transition.

He said the second phase of transition involves laying the groundwork for Somalia to conduct a general election in 2020-21. This includes a final Amisom exit envisaged for December 2021. It has been 50 years since Somalia conducted the one-person-one-vote election. Madeira said Somali forces have played a key role in liberating Lower Shabelle bridge towns of Sabiid, Anole and Bariire. Jubaland regional president Ahmed Mohamed told the press in the State House that Somalia will maintain its friendship.

"We have made huge steps as a result of Kenya's contribution. We are grateful to the government of Kenya and other troop-contributing countries,"
Jubaland regional president Ahmed Mohamed

Mohamed said there is a huge difference in Kismayu as stability comes back. "There is tangible progress made on development. As a result of peace, refugees have returned from Dadaab. They have made a huge impact as a human labour source, as most of them benefited from Kenyan education while at camp," he said. 

Mohamed said elections, set to be in a month's time, are set to be undertaken successfully, courtesy of the prevailing peace and stability. He said the attack last month that killed 26 was unique and rare. It won't happen again, he said.

Acting police commissioner Rex Dundun said Kenya is among countries contributing to the capacity building of Somalia forces in anticipation of transition. "Kenya has expert trainers and mentors of 39 officers," he said, adding that the force has an overall strength of 1,040 officers. 

Under the transition plan, 32,000 police officers ought to have been trained. Kenya's Ambassador to Somalia Lucas Tumbo said there are 35,000 Kenyans now in Somalia. "I appeal to Kenyans to step out and invest. The most challenging areas have great potential," he said.

Dhobley Level 2 hospital. The facility has helped locals - KDF

Dhobley Level 2 hospital. The facility has helped locals - KDF