In the pre-dawn hours of May 29th, 2015, elements of Kenya’s elite Special Forces, along with their Air Defense Force’s close air attack helicopter wing, conducted a two-pronged assault on what is being described as a large camp within the wooded outskirts of the Bula Hawo district of southern Somalia, located some four kilometers north by northeast of the Kenyan Defense Force’s forward operating bases along the border of Somalia.
SOFREP has learned that the target of the raid was suspected of being a newly established camp of the Somali-based terrorist group, Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen. It was chock-full of jihadi fighters ready to inflict chaos and terror by way of ‘hit-and-run’ style cross-border attacks into northern Kenya.
Two things that made this operation all the more interesting were the reports that none other than Mohamed Kuno, Kenya’s most wanted criminal and the mastermind behind the bloody attack against students at the University of Garissa, was reportedly in the camp, and the operation was successfully executed solely by the U.S.-trained Kenyan intelligence apparatus and its Special Forces.
The Westgate Mall attack back in 2013 was the first incident seen internationally where the Kenyan government showed its utter lack of preparation and training for a terrorist event of such magnitude. The tragic attack at the mall complex left nearly 70 innocent civilians dead after the smoke had cleared. It was the worst attack to gain global media interest since the U.S. embassy bombing in Kenya back in 1998.
Initially, both local law enforcement and some brave bystanders were able to stop the attackers from moving any deeper into the mall complex. However, once the military arrived, the the situation was only further complicated. Multiple communication failures between the local constabulary and the Kenyan Defense Force led to the friendly-fire killing of the police commander on the scene, angering the already outgunned police force and causing them to leave the scene in protest. The Kenyan Defense Forces, having no knowledge of who or what was inside, entered the mall complex blind. Confusion and heavy gun fire immediately ensued.
Rumors of indiscriminate firing that may have killed innocent bystanders and the three-day looting spree by Kenyan military personnel that followed have still not been disproven today. Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta assured his shocked and outraged country as well as the international community that he and his government would take all necessary measures to ensure that this type of savage attack would never occur again. And it, like all stories, faded from the limelight.
Then an attack on a university in the northern city of Garissa happened, in which al-Shabaab insurgents stormed the university and brutally massacred 148 college students for being ‘non-Muslim.’ Yet again the curse of poor communication and lack of leadership that haunted the Westgate Mall debacle struck again as it took the Kenyan Special Forces units tasked to respond to the attack over 10 hours to even get on scene to begin quelling the violence.
The units troop transport aircraft was busy shuttling a senior Kenyan police official’s daughters-in-law back to Nairobi from holiday in the beautiful coastal resort town of Mombasa. The police chief, Rogers Mbithi, initially denied the allegation, claiming the plane had been on a ‘training mission.’ But under growing scrutiny, he admitted using the plane to pick up his relatives.
This was Kenya’s second internationally noticed black eye in their war on terror in less than a year. Following the attack, Secretary of State John Kerry approved additional training and logistics support for the Kenyan military. The specific mission of training Kenyan Special Forces in the counterterrorism mission fell onto the shoulders of the U.S. African Command (AFRICOM) special operations commander, Brig. Gen. James B. Linder, and the Green Berets assigned to his Special Operations African Command (SOCAFRICOM).
The Kenyan Deputy President William Ruto was quick to get ahead of the negative press and proclaim the Garissa attack as Kenya’s 9/11 stating; “The way America changed after 9/11 is the way Kenya will change after Garissa.” Kenya even had its own ‘boogyman’ to blame for the heinous attack—the tall, soft-spoken, Kenyan-born Mohamed Kuno.
Mohamed Kuno—better known by his nom de guerre Dulyadeen Gamadhere, which stands for “the long-armed ambidextrous one”—is no stranger to death and destruction. The Kenyan-born jihadist and former Garissa University professor has been on the Kenyan intelligence and international terrorism watch list for decades. He served in the Jugta Culus brigade of the al-Qaeda-affiliated Harakat Ras Kamboni, fighting alongside Mohammad Aidid’s militas in the early 1990s, and was responsible for the brutal massacre of 148 unarmed college students in his hometown of Garissa, Kenya earlier this year.
The April 2 attack earned him and his known associates a spot on Kenya’s own internal “drone hit list,” which is then passed on to Central Intelligence Agency counterparts to be added to the drone target deck for surveillance or the eventual targeted killing.
Thus far, the Kenyan government seems to be tight-lipped as to the specifics of the raid. Yet they were more than willing to confirm reports that the Kenyan Defense Force’s 50th Air Cavalry Battalion flying the U.S.-made McDonnell Douglas MD 500 ‘Defenders’—affectionately known within the special operations community as ‘Little Birds’—were a part of the operation, and fired on Shabaab positions in the terror camp located in the outskirts of the village of Bula Hawo.
The Kenyan pilots initiated the attack by striking suspected al-Shabaab strongpoints and key buildings inside the camp with their rockets—“softening up the target,” in military parlance—to prepare for the arrival of the ground assault force. Kenyan Special Forces commandos then used the chaos from the aerial bombardment to move in with heavily armored Humvees from pre-staged areas just short of the targeted location, closing all avenues of egress inside the ‘kill box’ as they moved into the village.
The assault overwhelmed the beleaguered insurgents of al-Shabaab, and Kenyan Special Forces teams moved in to conduct house-to-house searches for Kuno. This highly technical and skilled raid showed no signs of the failures that haunted them from the past and alludes to the professionalism and effectiveness of the training the Kenyans received from their U.S. Special Forces counterparts.
Kenyan military after-action reporting coming out about the attack claims that the terror camp was all but destroyed, with Harakat al-Shabaab suffering “heavy” losses during the aerial bombardment and subsequent ground fighting. Officials also announced that Mohamed Kuno was “believed to be in the camp” and the main reason for the Special Forces raid. However, the Kenyan Defense Force refused to confirm whether or not they in fact captured Dulyadeen Gamadhere, but then again, this raid may indicate that Kenya is playing by their rules now, learning its lesson from the media blitz that Westgate and Garissa attacks produced, and now doesn’t have to or want to divulge such information.
Kenya has taken the counterterrorism framework and the expert-level training given to them by the United States Special Operations Command and has made it their own, using this successful model to fulfill its promise to destroy and chase out the scourge of al-Shabaab from within their borders once and for all. So confident is President Kenyatta in his Special Forces that three days after the raid in the Bula Hawo forest, both President Uhuru Kenyatta and Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni renewed their vows for the elimination of what remains of al-Shabaab in East Africa.
President Kenyatta went on to state, “The government will not relent on war against terrorism. Security agencies will work together to eliminate this menace devoted to death, division, and destruction activities against Kenyans in the name of religion.”
Ugandan President Museveni echoed the sentiment and praised the successes of the Kenyan Defense Forces thus far. Almost immediately after these joint statements of solidarity, President Kenyatta made good on that threat of “eliminating this menace” by ordering his special operations forces into forward operating bases along the Somali/Kenya border and giving them ‘green lights’ to spearhead cross-border raids as well as ordering an increase in air strikes along the border and inside southern Somalia.
The Kenyan Special Forces operational tempo is in fill swing, showing just how effective the training they received is by way of hunting Harakat al-Shabaab down and killing them mercilessly. Short on fighters and lacking proper equipment, the group’s senior leadership has been wracked with internal divisions and has pushed to the brink of collapse.
In March, al-Jazeera reported that the Libyan-based faction of the Islamic State invited Al-Shabaab to join it, similar to an offer extended earlier to Nigeria’s Boko Haram. It’s unclear if al-Shabaab will accept the offer to join forces with the Islamic State, but in the meantime, Kenya’s move into cross-border operations looks set to continue.
The success of this coordinated attack was the litmus test the United States, along with the Green Berets of SOCAFRICOM, needed to verify not only their host nation special operations training program, but the Kenyan government’s ability to learn from its mistakes in the past and their ability to run counterterrorism operations autonomously and with tangible successes.
(Featured image courtesy of todayonline.com)