Change tack in fight against Al Shabaab to gain the upper hand

Fake terror alerts on social media demonstrate the level of despondency among Kenyans. Their genesis is in the Al Shabaab attacks in Lamu and Garissa, in which several people were killed on the day they were primed to welcome the New Year, and perhaps, new promising beginnings.

Considering previous attacks on Garissa University, dusitD2 Nairobi, buses in Mandera, quarry workers and the Westgate mall in Nairobi, among others, to slight any warning on an impending attack is injudicious.

The fact that Al Shabaab militiamen pick their targets in parts of northern Kenya, kill our policemen and civilians at will is not reassuring. Some of the supposedly armoured contraptions Kenya got from China are mincemeat to Al Shabaab’s crude, improvised explosive devices. The fear of attacks among Kenyans is therefore palpable, and they want to be reassured.

The Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) incursion into Somalia in 2011, buttressed by African Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) peace keeping forces, might have momentarily slowed down Al Shabaab, but did not vanquish them. If anything, it led to a revision of tactics by the Al Shaabab militiamen. The 2016 El Adde attack, marked yesterday, is a case in point. Seemingly, Al Shabaab has the run of our country by night and upstages our security personnel at will.

Even as a civilian, it is easy to see that a conventional Army trained to fight in a conventional way and uses linear thinking is no match for a formless outfit of no fixed abode that employs guerrilla warfare; here today, gone for a few days only to reappear elsewhere unannounced. Realistically, KDF might as well be fighting shadows. 

Keep guard

Intensified sporadic and fatal attacks by Al Shabaab demand a rethink of the role of KDF in Somalia vis-a-vis the cost of maintaining the outfit there and what safety its presence has accorded ordinary Kenyans.

To keep guard at the neighbour’s gate when thugs are annihilating your family inside the living room of your house is not a bright idea, particularly if machoism has anything to do with it.

How many Kenyans must Al Shabaab kill before we acknowledge that enough is enough? In the book of Numbers 31:1-54, it is written; “The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Avenge the people of Israel on the Midianites. Afterward you shall be gathered to your people’. So Moses spoke to the people, saying, ‘Arm men from among you for the war, that they may go against Midian to execute the Lord’s vengeance on Midian”.

In the book of Samuel 15:3, the Bible says; “Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.”

We have reached that point when such exhortations must appeal to us. Al Shabaab militia live by the sword and must die by the sword as indicated in Mathew 26:52.


And as adage has it, desperate times call for desperate measures. The gloves ought to come off. KDF should go after Al Shabaab militiamen with renewed zeal.

Incendiary bombs

They are beasts not worthy of protection by international conventions. America’s adventures in Vietnam in the 1960s and the World War II have the answer for us, especially for Lamu and areas adjoining Boni Forest, in which Al Shabaab take refuge.

When Vietcong fighters proved too much of a handful for US forces; taking advantage of the landscape and thick foliage in the jungles to frustrate American soldiers, the latter used napalm to subdue them. Napalm is described as ‘a highly flammable sticky jelly used in incendiary bombs and flame-throwers, consisting of petrol thickened with special soaps.

When released, napalm causes fire that generates such intense heat; everything in its path gets consumed. It was what US forces used to clear thick vegetation in which the Vietcong hid, and it worked. Use of chemical weapons is proscribed by the United Nations, but there are countries that still have stockpiles.

A ground Army attack on the Al Shabaab in Boni forest would be futile. It cannot work, given the vastness of the forest and lack of credible intelligence on where the militants lurk.

I believe, however, that from drone surveillance, the US’s superior intelligence gathering machinery has co-ordinates to some of the possible hiding places of the Al Shabaab in Boni Forest. Collaboration between US Army, Amisom, KDF and a few doses of napalm sprayed into sections of Boni and targets inside Somalia can take the steam out of Al Shabaab.

Hardened fighters can brave bullets, shrapnel and helicopter gunships, but not fire. A little devastation to the ecosystem – which regenerates anyway - is a small price to pay for giving Kenyans peace of mind and security.

Mr Chagema is a correspondent for The [email protected]