Al-Shabaab released audio from two Kenyan soldiers who were taken hostage during the attack on AMISOM’s base in El Adde last Friday. The Star newspaper claims that al-Shabaab are holding 10 other Kenyan soldiers hostage.
The hostages only describe details of the attack that highlight al-Shabaab’s success in overrunning the base and incurring mass casualties, signalling the beginning of a significant propaganda campaign, with a video probably forthcoming, to demoralize the will of the Kenyan military and contest the viability of the AMISOM mission.
Clips of the audio are transcribed below:
“My name is Isaac Balewa, and I’m aged about 50 years old. I’m part of the Kenya Defense Force personnel serving in Somalia…in El Adde in Gedo region. I’m Luhya by tribe. I have a wife and several children…Yesterday in the morning, we were attacked by al-Shabaab and in the process some of my colleagues were killed, and some of us have been taken hostage by al-Shabaab. We are in their custody as prisoners of war. The attack happened on Friday, 15 of January at around 5 am. Now when the attack happened, our camp was naturally overrun and many of our colleagues were actually killed and others were injured. In the process, we were taken as prisoners of war…I’m appealing to the government of Kenya, and the African Union to facilitate our release peacefully from al-Shabaab so that we can go one with our daily lives.”
“My name is Lawrence Rinui Kamau, a Kenyan citizen, working under [the] KDF (Kenya Defense Forces)…I am from [the] central [part] of Kenya, Kiambu county. I am a Kikuyu by tribe. I have a wife and two children back home. I’m aged 30. I’ve worked in the service for 7 years. I’ve been working in Somalia for two weeks now, whereby on 15 January 2016, camp was raided by al-Shabaab, whereby they overpowered us and overran the camp. Most of our friends were killed and some were injured and we were taken as hostages and now we are…prisoners of war…”
The report on al-Shabaab’s website highlighted one of the hostages came from Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Kikuyu tribe, probably in an attempt to make the aftermath of the attack a personal one against the president.
It is unclear how Kenya will respond to the pleas of Balewa and Kamau, but last October the KDF did successfully rescue a Kenyan teacher kidnapped by al-Shabaab. In 2014, al-Shabaab released two Kenyan civilians who were kidnapped after making a propaganda video about their forced “conversion” to Islam.
Kenya is exerting its best efforts to counter al-Shabaab’s propaganda drive. Interior Cabinet Secretary Jospeh Nkaissery has threatened to arrest those who post images allegedly showing KDF soldiers who died at the site of the base attack.
Anti-extremism Twitter accounts in Kenya promoted hashtags such as #IstandWithKDF and #StandUpAndBeCountedKE, with one image suggesting that Lido Beach and other areas have become symbols of peace and unity in Somalia because of the blood shed by Kenyan soldiers in the fight against al-Shabaab.
Kenya’s defense cabinet secretary has refused to give details on the number of casualties until search operations are concluded and families of the victims are notified.
Apart from a few unofficial images, the only real evidence of casualties so far surfaced on Sunday when Kenyan media distributed photos of four injured Kenyan soldiers arriving in Nairobi from the base, where the Kenyan government stated a company-sized force (usually 80-150 soldiers) was present during the time of the attack.
Al-Shabaab’s official statement from 17 January updated its earlier “assessment” that 63 KDF had been killed, and claimed instead that 100 KDF perished in the operation. It also called the attack “the largest single attack against the Kenyan military inside Somalia.”
The fundamental question is whether al-Shabaab’s mass raid tactics can derail AMISOM operations. Top Kenyan officials have been adamant that Kenya remains “unbowed” in its commitment to AMISOM and have asked Kenyans to be patient as operations continue, despite a post-attack “debate” among Kenyans on Twitter regarding the viability of the KDF’s presence in Somalia.