Kenya Defence Forces will extend their mission in Somalia despite earlier plans to begin a gradual withdrawal of troops in December, the Nation has established.
The move is in line with the African Union Mission to Somalia's (Amisom) reconfiguration plan that seeks to restore normalcy in the war-torn nation. It involves the Somali Transition Plan, whose execution has been complicated by political differences in Mogadishu.
The plan will ensure local forces take over primary security responsibilities as the AU designs a programme that will modify the peacekeeping mission's mandate to include a civilian dimension.
KDF and other Amisom troops will hand over the secured areas to local forces and move to liberate other regions. Kenya has 16 Forward Operating Bases (FoBs) in Somalia fighting the Al Shabaab and other armed militia.
The bases are strategically positioned in areas with high populations of civilians who face daily threats from Al Shabaab.
Amisom Kenya commander in Sector II, Brigadier Jeff Nyagah, said an assessment of the capability and capacity of the Somali forces, their structures and systems will inform the withdrawal process.
Al Shabaab threat
"If you take a critical analysis of the capacity and capability of the Somali security forces, we still have work to do," Brigadier Nyagah told the Nation in an interview at Sector II headquarters in Dhobley, Jubaland.
He advised against immediate withdrawal of troops as "the war on terror keeps evolving, becoming complex by the day".
Al Shabaab remains a credible threat to Somali, regional peace and security despite having been greatly diminished over time. KDF's mission is to help Somali forces build their capacity to undertake coordinated operations against the terror group and take over the liberated areas.
"We are looking at how we can enhance the capacity and capability of Amisom or even make it multidimensional so that more resources can be pumped in," said Brig. Nyagah.
Jubaland President Sheikh Ahmed Mohamed Islaam Madobe said security threats in Somalia could destabilise the entire Horn of Africa, hence the need to fight the menace together to secure East Africa.
"We have a common enemy. The price of peace and security is blood, and blood is very expensive. Amisom troops have sacrificed their blood for us, which is the ultimate sacrifice that a human being can give for the sake of peace and security. How we finish fighting against this terror group is important as we need to ensure Somali troops are ready to maintain peace," he said.
Kenya is pushing for a multi-dimensional force that will expand Amisom's mandate.
Operation Linda Nchi
"Amisom has been primarily, largely, a military force. You cannot win an asymmetrical war like this one through military force alone. You need to come in and build schools, hospitals and roads. That requires a civilian dimension," the Chief of Defence Forces, General Robert Kibochi, said in a recent interview.
In October 2011, Kenya invoked Article 51 of the UN Charter that grants sovereign states power to defend themselves in the event of an aggravated attack with the launch of Operation Linda Nchi.
It sought to protect the country's borders against heightened Al Shabaab's movement into the country following their aggravated attacks on civilians, tourists and key government infrastructure at the time.
On February 21, 2012, KDF troops in Somalia re-hatted into Amisom and transitioned from Operation Linda Nchi following the decisions of both the AU Peace and Security Council and UN Security Council Resolution 2036. At the time, KDF had liberated close to 100,000-square kilometres.
A decade later, KDF troops are still in Somalia fighting a war whose end is not visible in the foreseeable future going by the evolving nature of terrorism. "We have our troops still actively engaged in all the bases. The situation remains relatively calm, though complex," said Brig. Nyagah.
The pain of the lives lost over the last decade has, however, elicited questions over the need to keep KDF troops in Somalia, especially after the deadly El Adde attack on January 15, 2016.
On that morning, several hundred Al-Shabaab fighters attacked a Kenyan base in Gedo region. It was the deadliest attack on peacekeepers in the history of modern peace operations. The militants also captured dozens of military vehicles and a range of weaponry and ammunition.
Achieve regional peace
Unbowed by the terrorists' actions, President Kenyatta said at the time that the attack would not affect KDF's mission and would only strengthen their resolve to achieve regional peace.
"Kenya's strategic interest in Somalia has purely been to see a peaceful Somalia and its neighbors, therefore our presence in Somalia is not only desirable but a matter of national interest," said Brig. Nyagah.
"Amisom cannot be here forever. At a certain point in time, we will have to exit and leave the responsibility to Somali people."
On the number of men Kenya has so far lost, the brigadier said: "Sometimes it's important to be conservative with the numbers as this may embolden our adversaries and make them more resilient in the war, which will not be to our best interest. We appreciate our Kenyan people for their continued support, losses notwithstanding."
"We offer our deepest condolences to our gallant soldiers that fell in the line of duty and protecting sovereignty and territorial integrity of our motherland, we shall always remember them," he added.
Kenya is also monitoring the events happening across the globe, including Afghanistan, to see whether they will embolden the enemy and make them more resilient in Somalia.
"We are living in a troubled world where something happens in one region then tomorrow it transits into another. We want to look at the whole spectrum' what it portends to us and mitigate the effects," said Brig. Nyagah.