Al-Shabaab claimed the Saleh Nabhan brigade carried out the operation. The brigade was created in tribute to the group’s former al-Qaeda operative who was killed in a U.S. special forces raid in 2009.
There do not appear to be any major operations attributed specifically to the Nabhan brigade since the quarry attack 13 months ago, and both its previous major attacks took place outside Somalia.
Friday’s operation in El Adde may show al-Shabaab wants to raise the profile of the faction and display the special group’s capability to operate both domestically and abroad. The Nabhan brigade’s resurfacing also means al-Shabaab possesses a dual threat for mass raid attacks. Another brigade formed in tribute to ex-leader Ahmed Abdi Godane was responsible for sending hundreds of troops in mass raid attacks against Burundians in Leego and Ugandans in Janaale last year.
Even with Ethiopian troops moving down to Kismayo for offensive operations against al-Shabaab, AMISOM appears not to have adapted any strategies to prevent the group from tactically withdrawing from towns and maintaining the capacity to mass its forces on vulnerable targets when desired.
Al-Shabaab’s military spokesperson Abu Muscab claimed the group killed 63 Kenyan troops in the attack that began with multiple suicide car bombs at the entrance gate followed by a firefight.
More shockingly, AMISOM sources told Standard Newspaper in Kenya that al-Shabaab used armoured personal carriers (APCs) stolen during the attack on Burundian soldiers in Leego as suicide vehicles, showing the cost AMISOM is paying for past mass raid attacks. Al-Shabaab also used captured Burundian uniforms in its November 2015 Sahafi hotel attack in Mogadishu, according to a Somali government minister.
The deputy governor of Gedo Mohamed Hussein Isaak alternatively claimed 35-50 Kenya Defense Forces (KDF) were killed.
Al-Shabaab said it seized 28 trucks and ammunition at the base while VOA’s Harun Maruf reported the group made off with “a large quantity of weapons and 13 military trucks” from Kenyan forces. The ganeema taken from El Adde appears to mirror equipment looted from other mass raids, which are proving to be an important source for both resupply and media attention, according to one independent journalist in Kenya.
“A senior Somali military official confirmed the militants had taken over the base.
“AMISOM has gone out of the town and base for strategic reasons,” Colonel Farah Surow, who is based about 100 km (60 miles) from the Ceel Cadde base, told Reuters.
A shopkeeper in Ceel Cadde town said soldiers from AMISOM appeared to have left the town and fighters were on the streets.
“We see al-Shabaab in every corner of town,” Abdullahi Iidle told Reuters. “Some residents have fled.”
The amount of time that al-Shabaab has been allowed to control El Adde absent other forces probably gives the group the opportunity to document its operations in detail. Arguably, two of al-Shabaab’s most provocative media pieces have been its feature-length films on mass raid attacks.
The Kenyan military initially claimed al-Shabaab attacked a Somali camp next to the Kenyan camp and KDF were simply responding as counter-attackers in support of the SNA. Kenyan media also ran with this version of the story in national headlines.
However, the Somali National Army (SNA) denied its base was attacked and said only the KDF camp was targeted. Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta later contradicted the Kenyan military’s account and confirmed that the Kenyan camp was attacked but did not give casualty figures, according to FT.
Twitter observers later mocked the Kenyan military’s version of the story that portrayed themselves as heroic first responders rather than primary targets:
Ultimately, it will be more difficult for the Kenyan military to prosecute a campaign against extremism and terror if it is not perceived as a credible and reliable source of information.
While al-Shabaab often exaggerates the statistics behind its operations, the group’s effort to release photos and videos of its activities provides audiences with content that it can evaluate for itself. This is a component often missing in Kenya’s efforts to suppress radicalization and counter al-Shabaab propaganda.
It would be very surprising if al-Shabaab did not release a video to counter casualty claims from the Kenyan military, and political observers are engaged in a serious debate about how to account for peacekeeping deaths in Somalia. For the AMISOM mission, there will probably never be certainty over the numbers.
George Washington University professor and peacekeeping expert Professor Paul Williams highlighted the payout for AMISOM soldiers killed in combat is $50,000.
If 45 KDF were killed in the attack, that would amount to a multi-million dollar payout — about $2.25 million — to soldiers’ families in total.
Following the casualty count in Somalia ultimately means following the money.