At least 1,000 Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) soldiers are undergoing combat training, under the British army, ahead of their deployment to Somalia in January.
The UK-Kenya defence training is jointly delivered by the British Peace Support Team (BPST) and the Short Term Training Teams from the British army and KDF.
The soldiers are being drilled on guerilla warfare tactics used by Al Shabaab, in preparation to join the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom).
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Amisom’s mandate in Somalia is set to lapse in 2021 after which Somali security forces will take over the security of their borders.
The courses carried out at Archers Post and KDF School of Infantry (SOI) in Isolo, involve intensive and condensed training on skills and drills to improve effectiveness in fighting Shabaab.
Key among the drills was training on how to deal with threats of Improvised Explosives Devices (IEDs), which remain a major challenge to the soldiers in Somalia.
In one of the trainings witnessed by Deputy British High Commissioner Julius Court, the soldiers demonstrated live military drills such as route sweeping in search of IEDs, community patrol, handling surrendered terrorists and suicide bombing.
Other training aspects included a symbolic urban village for training, a Forward Operating Base (FOB) and an assault course that involves a mix of climbing, crawling, running, jumping, and balancing elements.
Defence Advisor at British High Commission Brigadier Mark Thornhill said over the past four years, the UK government has invested about Sh1 billion in the humanitarian peace sports school at Embakasi.
Brig Thornhill said the main objective is to create a counter-IED centre of excellence for Kenyan security forces. Here, soldiers will be trained on how to operate in a high-threat IED environment.
“We know from statistics and analysis of operations in Somalia that the country is the most known nation in Africa for IEDs. The skills delivered will allow forces in Somalia to identify such a device, defuse it and make it safe for evidence,” said Thornhill.
IED finds by Amisom in Somalia has risen from 26.5 per cent in 2017 to 30.5 in 2019.
Going by statistics, he said while the use of IEDs by Al Shabaab may have remained the same, the level of casualties has significantly reduced in the past three years, thanks to training by the British army.
He said by training the KDF soldiers, they would, in turn, be able to train their colleagues. The soldiers will become trainers to the rest of the force, he added.
Brigadier Joakim Mwamburi, the commandant for the KDF School of Infantry, admitted that reaction to an FOB attack and handling IEDs have been the major challenges for the soldiers in Somalia.
“The soldiers required physical training on how to handle IEDs, especially because our borders are porous. The enemy has been mutating such that one moment they are herding and unarmed but moments later you will find them armed and we must know how to react to such a situation,” said Mwamburi.
The commandant noted that there will be evaluation exercise before the soldiers are deployed to Somalia.
Some of the soldiers have been to Somalia before, with Mwamburi stating that the combat trainings are meant to hone their skills for Amisom.
Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Hipkins, a trainer in the BPST programme, said the British army’s experience on IEDs was from previous operations in other countries facing threats of terrorism such as Afghanistan.
“What the British military brings is internationally-recognised counter-IED training and the more the training the soldiers get, the better for individual soldier’s survival in Somalia,” said Hipkins, adding that he undertakes about 16 courses in Kenya per year.
The training by British military is as a result of a strategic partnership signed between Defence Cabinet Secretary Monicah Juma and her UK counterpart Ben Wallace in September 2019 in London. This was revisited in January this year during President Uhuru’s Kenyatta’s meeting with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson in London.
The collaboration covers counterterrorism, developing institutions across security forces, information operations and creation of right command and leadership ethos in both forces.
The deputy British High Commissioner termed the exercise as a terrific example of the UK and Kenya working together, one of the most difficult challenge of terrorism.
“We are working on security and stability in Africa and the situation in Somalia presents a particular regional challenge which is important to the UK and Kenya,” said Court.
AU countries with troops deployed for peacekeeping in Somalia include Uganda, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Burundi.
KDF entered Somalia in 2011 as the operations of Al Shabaab posed a security threat to Kenya’s national security.
“We are watching the situation in Somalia carefully and we will come to a collective judgement on withdrawal,” said the deputy high commissioner.