Nairobi, Kenya — The Kenyan Air Force is set to receive an undisclosed number of second-hand Bell AH-1 Cobra attack helicopters from the Kingdom of Jordan. The attack helicopters are slotted to be used in support of Kenyan Defense Forces (KDF) assigned to the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) in the fight against the al-Qaeda-linked terrorist group Harakat al-Shabaab operating in the Lower Shabelle region of Somalia.
The Cobra, which was deigned and built by the U.S. company Bell Helicopters, first saw service in the Vietnam War and has seen several variant updates since its maiden combat flight in 1967. The Cobra was the ‘go-to’ attack helicopter for the U.S. Army for decades until it was replaced by the lethal AH-64 Apache. However, the Cobra still logged combat sorties in Afghanistan and Iraq during the height of the Global War on Terror and is still the primary attack helicopter for the United States Marine Corps.
These Cobras however are somewhat of a swap-meet special and have been passed around like a mason jar of moonshine. These Cobras were part of about 60 helicopters provided to the Israel Ministry of Defense in the mid-1980’s and saw service in the Israeli Air Force’s 160 Squadron, also known as the Northern Cobra Squadron.
After years of service, the Israelis decommissioned the Cobras after deeming them unsafe to fly and prone to accidents in August 2013. Israel really wanted to get rid of their surplus of Cobras and went looking for buyers. Nigeria placed a bid for the attack helicopters in 2014 to use against the terrorist group Boko Haram, who was running an insurgency in the northern region of Nigeria.
The sale was quickly vetoed by the Obama Administration over fears that the Cobras would be used without regard for civilians on the ground and thus becoming an instrument for human rights violations perpetrated by the Nigerian military. This veto of the sale came just a few months after Boko Haram kidnapped 300 girls from their school in the village of Chibok, in the northern Nigerian Borno State. This created a global outcry of condemnation and support, to include the Twitter hashtag campaign of “#BringBackOurGirls” that was even supported by then First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama.
It seemed like these unwanted Cobras just could not find a home until in mid-2015 Israel, with approval from the White House, 16 of the Cobras were transferred to the Royal Jordanian Air Force with the intended use of fighting the swelling threat of the Islamic State. At the time, ISIS controlled large swathes real estate along Jordan’s borders with Syria and Iraq. The Cobras even got a robust refurbishing from the U.S. Army prior to their transfer to what was hopefully to be their “forever home.”
The Jordanians already had 25 Cobras already in service as border security when they received the additional 16 from Israel, which according to the Jordanian government were going to be used as spare parts anyways. Then, in May a video emerged on YouTube posted by the Kenyan Air Force. It’s of a Bell AH-1F Cobra being off-loaded from a transport plane at the Laikipia Air Base in Kenya and then a subsequent second video showing the test flights of the AH-1F made some watching posit the question of “Where did they come from?” That was answered in June by the Kingdom of Jordan themselves; reporting that they had donated’ the Cobras to Kenya with the added bonus of the U.S. based Bell Helicopter Company also reporting that they would be providing the training and maintenance of the attack aircraft as well.
It’s been a long strange trip for these Cobras and now they are going to see service in Somalia, providing direct aerial support for KDF troops assigned to the U.N.-backed AMISOM peace-keeping mission sometime this year in the fight against al-Shabaab that will most assuredly intensify as the government of Somalia attempts to end the terror group’s reign in the south.
Feature image courtesy of: YouTube