Kulbiyow attack: What we know so far

An officer from the Kenyan Contingent of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) in 2012 (Credit: AU-UN IST / Stuart Price)

Al-Shabaab militants attacked an AMISOM outpost manned by the Kenyan army in southern Somalia near the Kenyan border last Friday. Conflicting reports have emerged so far.

Here’s what we know:

  • Dawn Assault: Somali fighters loyal to Al-Shabaab tried to force access to the camp at dawn using two vehicles laden with explosives. Fighters on pick-up trucks then followed, attacking from different directions.
  • Green Troops: KDF soldiers at the base had only recently been rotated into Somalia last month from the Mariakani Barracks. The size of the Kenyan force at the outpost was about four platoons. This would make it similar in size to the “company-plus” sized force that was overrun at El-Adde last year. The El-Adde attack had followed a similar rotation.
  • Heavy Al-Shabaab Losses: KDF soldiers were “pinned down” in the ensuing attack, according to the army spokesman, but Al-Shabaab suffered heavy casualties in attempting to overrun fixed defensive positions. Kenyan military sources have put the Al-Shabaab death toll at 70 or more – a claim that was also backed up by Somalia’s chief of defense.

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  • Claims Base Overrun: In spite of the losses, Al-Shabaab have claimed a victory, saying that they captured the camp and killed the survivors. Kenya’s army spokesman Lt-Col. Paul Njuguna denied this saying, “We’ve repulsed the enemy. We were ready. We’ve not been overrun. It’s false.” But Kenyan military sources speaking anonymously to The Star and other outlets say that Al-Shabaab took over the base and burnt it before it was recaptured the following day.
  • KDF Survivors: Tactical information about how the attack unfolded is still sketchy. A report in Kenya’s The Standard newspaper says that two platoons consisting of 72 men survived after their commanders ordered that they retreat. This left the other two platoons to take on the attackers, “suffering massively before the camp was overrun.” Although this information has not been confirmed elsewhere, it raises the possibility that Kenyan forces were separated during the dawn attack.
  • Unconfirmed Kenyan Losses: KDF initially told media that it lost only nine men in the attack. But military sources speaking to Kenyan media outlets put the death toll at 68 or more. Kenyan authorities are keen to ensure that the press not air unfiltered Al-Shabaab propaganda about the incident. KDF spokesman Paul Njuguna dismissed reports on the number of fatalities as “propaganda from the enemy.” On the other hand, KDF still have not released a death toll from the El-Adde attack last year.
  • International Praise: Supporters of the AU Mission in Somalia have praised the Kenyan forces for their response to the Al-Shabaab attack. AU Peace and Security Commissioner Smail Chergui said, “We commend KDF Peacekeepers in ‪AMISOM for repelling this cowardly attack and send our condolences to Kenya and families of the fallen soldiers.” Britain’s Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson praised the “decisive response” of KDF troops saying they “displayed exemplary levels of bravery in responding to the attack.