Why Al Shabaab insurgents are gaining ground in Lamu

Aerial picture showing smoke billowing from Pandaguo police post after being attacked by Al-Shabaab militants

In late 2015, a UN task force report warned that Jaysh Ayman militia, which includes several Western foreign fighters and hundreds of Kenyan militants, is now able to hold territory in areas north of Lamu County.

Reports indicate Jaysh Ayman militants (allied to Al Shabaab), acting from around Baure where militants killed three soldiers at a Kenya Defence Forces camp in Lamuon June 15, 2015, were behind increased attacks and killings of security officers.

Towards the end of 2015, attacks were concentrated in Bodhai, Basuba and others areas about 100 kilometres north-east of Mpeketoni where insurgents slew 65 men in a June 15, 2014 incident that marked Al Shabaab's rise in Lamu.

Al Shabaab, which claimed attacks in 2014 and 2015, has not claimed responsibility for the new raids although the tactics and modus operandi are the same.

Military operation

The national government only launched a military operation in these areas in September 2015, more than a year after the Mpeketoni massacre.

Following a resurgence of killings in the areas of northern Lamu, with indications the violence is moving westwards to Witu in Lamu West, there is a growing sense of frustration in security circles.

On July 6, a top security chief held a meeting at Manda naval base for a postmortem of the unravelling situation and on the operation that began on September 11, 2015.

Officials led by Kenya Defence Forces chief Samson Mwathethe questioned heads of the operation in Boni forest as to why the territories where the insurgents operate from had not been secured.

A senior official told The Standard that Mwathethe and Deputy Inspector General Samuel Arachi expressed the Government's frustration on the operation that they said has cost billions of shillings.

Those present included Lamu County Commissioner Joseph Kanyiri, Operation Linda Boni Director James ole Seriani, Lamu County Police Commander Pamiuns Kioi and his DCI counterpart Prosper Bosire as well as Noah Mwavanda, the officer in charge of the multi-agency security team in Lamu.

In private, Government officials admit the insurgents are growing in strength and have new weapons and a fresh influx of newly trained fighters amidst shambolic planning by State agents.

"The threat is growing largely because, as a country, security forces relaxed and gave them (militants) an opportunity to regroup," said security consultant Simiyu Werunga.

He says the terrain in Boni forest is posing a logistical challenge to Kenyan forces because it is difficult for infantry forces to advance with vehicles while an air attack would be ineffective because of the thick forest canopy.

Junior police officers and military officers told The Standardthere is falling morale among the forces due to mounting casualties.

Security experts and insiders in Government disclose that the multi-agency operation is not going well and is on the verge of collapse due to infighting among officials, lack of coordination and equipment and plummeting morale among the forces who have seen dozens of their comrades killed in rocket attacks or APCs that cannot withstand mines.

On the first anniversary of the Mpeketoni mass murder, insurgents raided a KDF camp at Baure North East of Mpeketoni and killed two soldiers in a rocket and machine gun attack. Some 11 militants including British jihadist Thomas Evans Anthony were killed. Three soldiers pursuing the retreating militants died when their truck struck a mine.

Areas around Witu and the highway approaching Mpeketoni, where militants slaughtered 65 men on June 25, 2014, have been insecure since December 25, 2015, when insurgents threw an Improvised Explosive Device at a General Service Unit vehicle at Mambosasa.

Militants have been engaging in guerrilla-style raid in the triangular area covering Northern Lamu and Southern Garissa where the two territories meet the Indian Ocean and Somalia's border with Kenya.

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