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War on terror has no middle ground

By COLLINS WANDERI | April 14th 2015

NAIROBI: In December 2014, the Taliban attacked an Army Public School in Peshawar Province in Pakistan, killing over 150 people including 134 school children. They held hundreds hostage before the Pakistan Army Special Services Group (SSG) stormed the school in 15 minutes and rescued over 900 people.

The extremists claimed they had attacked the school to avenge the killing their relatives by the Army. The Prime Minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Shariff, flew to Peshawar to supervise the rescue operations himself.

This was the worst terror attack on Pakistan soil since 2007. The leadership of the country; political class, top Muslim Clerics, media personalities; journalists and artists closed ranks to condemn the brutal attack.

The opposition did not ask the government to resign or condemn the harsh measures introduced by the Government such as the reinstatement of capital punishment which had been suspended since 2008.

The school reopened in January 2015 and the Chief of the Pakistan Army received pupils and their parents who defied the Taliban's threat of fresh attacks.

Fast forward to April 2, 2015, Al-Shabaab militants stormed Garissa University College, held hundreds hostage before killing at least 150 people and injuring 79 others.

Cabinet Secretary Joseph Nkaissery and Inspector General of Police Joseph Boinett arrived at the College within three hours while the hostage rescue team from General Service Unit's (GSU) Recce Company arrived almost 10 hours later.

This is the deadliest attack on Kenyan soil so far after the siege at Westgate Shopping Mall on September 12, 2013, which left 67 people dead, the Mpeketoni attacks of June 2014 which left over 60 people dead and the November and December 2014 twin attacks in Mandera County which left over 70 people dead.

The Government explained its capacity to provide security to all high-population centres was stretched beyond capacity due to lack of trained personnel.

President Uhuru Kenyatta promised to respond to this attack in the severest way possible. He directed the 10,000 police recruits, whose training was stopped by the High Court over alleged irregularities, to report for training immediately, an order that was later rescinded.

The Government also closed 13 money transfer businesses and froze close to 90 bank accounts belonging to suspected financiers of terrorism. What has followed is a round of condemnation by politicians, religious leaders, journalists and civil society activists accusing the Government of incompetence and violation of basic freedoms and liberties.

Some commentators have accused the President of breaching the law and limiting civil liberties. Others are demanding a hurried withdrawal of the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) from Somalia and permanent closure of Garissa University College to forestall future attacks.

What they seem to forget is that Kenya is currently in a state of war with a faceless enemy whose modus operandi defies logic, basis, human decency and all known Conventions of War.

The same people who loudly cheered when KDF rolled its tanks and made an unprecedented amphibian landing to capture Kismayu in September 2012 are now questioning the technical capability of our defence forces to protect the country from external aggression. For starters, KDF is trained, oriented and structured to deal with external, not internal, threats.

KDF is only called upon to intervene when internal security organs are unable to deal with a situation. The duty of internal policing lies squarely with the National Police Service (NPS), whose capacity is now highly strained.

All the people making innuendos and casting aspersions on the technical capability of the KDF and NPS are playing right into the hands of Al-Shabaab's extremist propaganda. The terror attacks on Kenyan soil are intended to inflict maximum pain on civilians and create the kind of despondent situation we are now in. Al-Shabaab must be celebrating our internal political differences which only serve to slacken the resolve by our defences forces to defeat them inside Somalia.

Granted the rescue mission may not have been executed to precision but it was far much better co-ordinated than during the Westgate Siege. The Recce unit should have landed at Garissa before the IG and the Cabinet Secretary.

The County Police Commander ought to have been given full authority to deal with the situation and harness all available resources for combat and rescue without having to revert to Nairobi for further orders.

Lessons learnt in all previous attacks should now be harnessed to reduce the possibility and gravity of future attacks.

It is okay to rightfully criticise Government, but it is immoral to curse and demoralise security officers; men and men who risk their lives to protect yours and defend the liberties you enjoy moving around freely and talking openly.

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