Lamu, Kenya — Officials from the Kenyan government declared early Monday that the Kenyan Defense Force (KDF) have conducted air strikes within the Boni National Forest Reserve in southeastern Kenya against suspected camps of the Somalia based terror group Harakat al-Shabaab. The strikes which fell under the on-going operation known as Operation Linda Boni, were purportedly in response to the bloody attacks that al-Shabaab has been responsible for that have claimed up to 50 lives in as many weeks.
The Coastal Regional Coordinator, Nelson Marwa, who is the spokesperson for the current operation within the Boni National Reserve stated in a press conference that “As we speak, airstrikes have been launched there. Our officers are in action. Boni belongs to us. It is in Kenya and the Al-Shabaab must know we are going to do all it takes to secure it.” Mr. Marwa also indicated that a curfew has been placed in and around the Boni forest as well as the evacuation of civilians affected by the increased violence by the al-Shabaab fighters throughout Lamu and Tana River Counties.
Lamu County Red Cross has already reported at least 20 families from the Jima village that was recently attacked by al-Shabaab where up to 9 non-Muslim men were beheaded by the terror group have already been evacuated and moved into what the Kenyan government is calling ‘safe zones’.
Mr. Marwa finished the press briefing by claiming that, “we [KDF] will do all it takes to secure the forest and we are urging the neighboring communities to stay away to avoid any injuries.” However most of the civilians within the contested zone believe otherwise.
For weeks residents within Lamu County affected by al-Shabaab have grown increasingly frustrated with the local police and the Kenyan Defense Forces inability to deal with the al-Shabaab threat in the Boni Forest. “[al-Shabaab] gunmen have completely taken control of the forest, raiding our villages and threatening us that we should choose between working for them or security agencies.” said one Jima village resident; “They are having a field day inside the forest without any fear of the soldiers and the police.”
Other residents claim that police and KDF forces barely even move further than five kilometers outside of their bases, even after reporting seeing al-Shabaab moving about unimpeded on a daily basis. Civilians have even reported seeing blood soaked bandages along the multiple trails used by the terrorists leading into and out of the Boni Forest. Which may indicate the al-Shabaab cell may have sustained casualties during several of its ‘hit and run’ attacks on police stations and outposts in the area.
The Boni National Forest Reserve is without a doubt a strong-hold for al-Shabaab. In an interview with SOFREP security analyst and former US Marine Andrew Franklin based in Nairobi, Kenya, indicated just that saying, “Al Shabaab operates from bases within Boni Forest since late 2014 to early 2015, it [al-Shabaab] has infiltrated Tana County which is sparsely inhabited and poorly developed and base camps were set up by Shabaab.”
Kenyan intelligence along with their U.S. and U.K. counterparts came to that same conclusion two years back and launched what is known as Operation Linda Boni in 2015. With the help of their U.S. Special Operations counter-parts operating out of a U.S. military-built air base at Manda Bay in the coastal city of Lamu. Kenyan Defense Forces were able to launch joint security operations along with coordinating counterinsurgency operations within Lamu County. However, the official explanation from the Department of Defense is that these U.S. SOF forces are strictly there conducting training with the KDF troops as well as providing logistics cobbled with providing intelligence support via drone operations.
Operation Linda Boni is tasked specifically to target a group known as Jaysh Ayman, a self proclaimed “elite cell” of al-Shabaab suspected to be residing within the Boni National Forest and designed to engage the KDF and security forces within Kenya itself. Jaysh Aman is reported to be comprised of mostly Kenyan born militants along with rumors of ‘foreign fighters’ within the ranks. Local residents within Lamu County that have come into contact with the fighters of Jaysh Ayman claim to have seen “Caucasian men” who mostly speak Arabic.
The Jaysh Ayman have turned the densely vegetated Boni Forest into a training and staging ground for its insurgency operations into Kenya. The forest provides a thick canopy of foliage that all but blocks aerial observation and the high moisture of the forest floor provide little options for the KDF to use armor or heavier vehicles to go in after the al-Shabaab fighters. The only way to route the terrorists from its forest hide-outs is on foot, and that is something the KDF is ill-prepared for. Moreover the al-Shabaab fighters, if faced with a large heavily armed KDF assault force, may just simply choose to not engage the KDF and disappear into the dense forest to wait it out.
Something security analyst Andrew Franklin indicted to SOFREP saying, “Al Shabaab may withdraw from Boni Forest deeper into Kenya and return to Boni Forest when KDF units withdraw.” SOFREP also asked Mr. Franklin whether or not the KDF in the region can accomplish the mission of ousting al-Shabaab from their strongholds and maintaining a security presence once they push out al-Shabaab from the Boni Forest. He had this to say: “What seems not to be appreciated by “western” observers is that the KDF has no organized reserves and lacks sufficient regular troops to maintain effective control in areas from which insurgents have been displaced.” Franklin continued, “[I]n essence when the KDF leaves an area there are no effective police units able to hold ground or take on main force Al-Shabaab troops.”
However, Operation Linda Boni director James ole Seriani was more positive in his assessment in an interview on Monday saying, “I can confidently say Operation Linda Boni has achieved a lot. So far, we have killed many Al-Shabaab terrorists, including bomb-making experts in the forest and on the Kenya-Somalia border. We have deployed many officers to the area to pursue the attackers.” And then Director Seriani provided his assurances of a successful KDF operation by finishing his statement with, “We will definitely get them soon.”
Feature image courtesy of: DVIDS