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Capture of Kismayu port was the brainchild of Karangi

By Alphonce Shiundu | October 16th 2016
KDF Soldiers during the Linda Nchi Operation

Hidden in the 306 pages of the Kenya Defence Forces’ official account of Operation Linda Nchi is what the military authors call the “Ugali strategy.”

This, the military says, was the philosophy behind the KDF invasion of Somalia to pursue al Shabaab militants.

“The analogy postulates that when Ugali is too hot, one cannot eat it from the centre, lest you burn your fingers. One has to start by eating the ugali from the sides as the centre cools down,” reads the official account quoting former Chief of the Kenya Defence Forces (CDF) Gen (rtd) Julius Waweru Karangi (Below). In Gen Karangi’s world, Al Shabaab in Kismayu was the “hot ugali.”

“Nobody knew exactly who they were. They drew their supporters from all over the world. It is this mysterious nature of the insurgents that made them ‘hot’,” he told the military interviewers.

The record describes Gen Karangi as the “exponent” of the strategy “which was adopted entirely” by the military’s highest decision-making organ in war-time – the National Military Authority. The NMA comprises the Chief of Defence Forces and service commanders.

Master planners

Though the account is silent on when exactly the planning for Operation Linda Nchi began, it volunteers information on who was in the war room at the Department of Defence headquarters when strategies and tactics to go into Somalia were formulated.

In the room, cracking their heads on the military strategies and tactics to go for al Shabaab were Gen. Karangi, Maj-Gen. Ngewa Mukala (Kenya Navy), Maj-Gen Joff Otieno (Kenya Air Force) and Maj-Gen Joseph Kasaon of the Kenya Army.

Though it is silent on who else was in the room, those familiar with military operations said Lt Gen Samson Mwathethe (who was promoted to General and succeeded Karangi in April 2015), the then military spy chief Maj Gen Philip Kameru must also have been involved in the initial conception of Operation Linda Nchi.

Kameru headed the Directorate of Military Intelligence. He has since retired from the military and is now the head of the National Intelligence Service.

Others said to have been in the planning stages were the then Deputy Army Commander Maj Gen Maurice Oyugi; the then head of personnel and logistics at DoD, Maj Gen Gordon Kihalangwa (now Director of Immigration). It is also conceivable that such a meeting would not take place without the bosses of the Western Command, the Eastern Command, and the boss of Operations Doctrine and Training.

All these brains agreed with their boss to wear out Al Shabaab by going for the small wins, before they threw the final punch to take over Kismayu. The official account says the “ugali strategy... was entirely adopted by the NMA and appeared to be the thought process that drove operational jointness to its final objectives.” On the military’s war table, Kismayu, the then business hub for Al Shabaab symbolised the “plate” while the Al Shabaab leaders and assets in that coastal town symbolised “very hot ugali.”

“In an effort to subdue Kismayu, KDF had to capture smaller towns like Dobley, Hoosingo, Billis Qooqani, Tabda, Xayo, Afmadhow and Miido and also ensure sea control,” reads the official account. “... One had to eat from the sides by capturing smaller targets as the centre gets cooler for easy subduing. The centre must be eaten anyway for one to have achieved their objective.”

The book also reveals how the troop contributing countries abandoned Kenya even after their military chiefs were hosted in the country to discuss a joint operation on how to capture Kismayu – a strategic town for Al Shabaab and a bastion for their terror and piracy activities. It was the entry port for food, weapons, foreign fighters and other supplies for the Al Shabaab militants.

“The other TCCs (troop contributing countries) reneged on the joint operation arguing that Kismayu’s capture was a sector two affair as it fell within KDF’s area of responsibility. Eventually, Kenya’s NMA planned and executed the capture of Kismayu,” Karangi told the military interviewers.

A total of 322 people involved in Operation Linda Nchi were interviewed for KDF’s official account. Postscript: A lot of changes have taken place in the military following the retirement of senior figures. Some joined Kenya’s Foreign Service, while others were promoted within the service. Karangi retired and was appointed chairman of the Kenya Airports Authority board; Lt Gen Kasaon is now the vice CDF, Maj Gen (rtd) Otieno is now Kenya’s ambassador in Egypt. The official account of KDF is contained in a book titled, “Operation Linda Nchi: Kenya’s Military Experience in Somalia” which was written by senior military officers, and published for the first time in 2014.

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