Al Shabaab operation in Boni Forest extended to neighbouring areas

Security vehicles at Mpeketoni School grounds in Lamu County on September 11,  2015 when top security team among them Interior CS Joseph Nkaissery, Commander of the Forces Samson Mwathethe and IG Joseph Boinnet toured area ahead of Security operation to flush out Al Shaabab from Boni Forest. (Photo: Maarufu Mohamed/Standard)

Lamu: Operation to flush out Al-Shabaab from Boni Forest in Lamu has been extended to four other areas with herders ordered to leave area within a week.

The local security officials met with herders on Wednesday and informed them the operation will be extended to Bothei, Pandanguo, Pangani and Witu areas.

Head of the security team James Ole Serian said they informed the herders to leave the targeted areas within a week.

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“We therefore told those herders from other counties especially Tana River and Garissa to leave the area within a week to enable security officers mount a major operation there,” said Serian.

He added the herders promised to cooperate and even inform the agencies of any presence of the militants.

The terrorists have in the last month alone staged attacks in the areas, burning at least one police car and escaping with another one. Many are believed to be hiding in the forest.

The militants killed two police officers in the areas in December alone.

The move came weeks after interior Cabinet Secretary Joseph Nkaissery extended, by three months, a notice declaring the forest Dangerous and Disturbed Area.

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This means locals who had been relying on the forest for their daily lives and food produce for selling will have to keep off the area for long.

Nkaissery renewed the declaration on December 9 in a gazette notice. Inspector General of police Joseph Boinnet later told The Standard he had renewed order for surrender of firearms.

Boinnet asked residents of surrounding areas to surrender both legal and illegal firearms they may be having.

The weapons should be handed over at the nearest police stations or administrative offices during the day, for safe custody.

“The notice will remain in force for 90 days and is subject to extension,” Boinnet said.

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The army and police launched the operation in September 2015 and it was believed Al Shabaab was using the area to launch strikes in Kenya.

Serian is leading the operation during which several weapons and other paraphernalia have been recovered.

"The combined security units have discovered different Al Shabaab hideouts inside the forest. The hideouts have already been destroyed and the weapons handed to the Government," he said.

Officials said at least 3,000 people living near the forest were forced to leave so that the operation could go ahead.

The forest borders the Indian Ocean and extends to the Somalia border. It is home to the Lag Badana Bush Bush National Park on the Somalia side and Lacta Belt. It also extends to the Hulugho Division in Garissa.

It is believed that some of the militants had been using it in launching attacks in places like Mpeketoni where more than 60 people were killed in 2014.

The renewal of the declaration will continue to suffer as it had been their source of revenue in many ways. Local leaders have been complaining the operation was negatively affecting them.

Serian said there are more things that need to be carried out within the forest before it is opened to the public. The services include construction of roads and installation of communication masts to enhance easy mobility and communication.

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Al-ShabaabBoni ForestJoseph Nkaissery