Kenya politics: Quick View - Army suffers losses in Somalia

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Economist Intelligence Unit
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The Kenyan military is likely to have suffered its worst loss of life in Somalia to date following a major attack on an army camp on January 15th by al-Shabab militants.


Officials have yet to release the formal casualty toll, a week after the attack, leading to widespread concern about the numbers involved. Al-Shabab, which attacked the El Adde army camp in southern Somalia using suicide truck bombs, followed by a conventional-style infantry assault, initially claimed about 60 victims, before revising the figure upwards to 100. Kenya has confirmed that a company-sized unit was involved (suggesting a force of between 80-250 soldiers) but most other details are still pending. Some troops escaped the attack (and were subsequently rescued) and some injured soldiers have also been repatriated (along with four bodies), but reports also suggest that al-Shabab is holding a number of prisoners.

The slow release of information may in part reflect government fears about undermining morale-as well as popular support for the Somalia incursion that was originally launched in 2011-by admitting to a large loss of life. However, the lack of detail also stems from the difficulty in ascertaining precisely what happened at El Adde, given that Kenyan forces took several days to reach the location because of the difficult terrain, the danger posed by land mines and booby-traps, and concerns that al-Shabab would use any captured prisoners as human shields.

Regardless of the precise death toll, al-Shabab's seemingly successful assault also raises questions about how effectively Kenya's 3,600-strong force in Somalia-which is part of a larger Africa Union peacekeeping operation-is being managed and co-ordinated. The company in El Adde seems to have been underprepared (despite rumours of advance intelligence warnings), communications were lost (for reasons still to be determined) and back-up was non-existent. There also appears to have been little co-operation between the Kenyan force and a nearby Somalia government base. The immediate concern for most Kenyans is how many lives were lost, although the key issue for military planners is whether failures in strategy and tactics were to blame.

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