The untold story of courage, horror and betrayal in defence of our country

Alshabaab attack in El Adde. (Photo: Courtesy)

Mark (not his real name) spoke to his girlfriend at about 2.47am on Friday, January 15, 2015, before sliding back into his sleeping bag and falling dead asleep. With him in the trenches was a corporal who kept guard as he slept. They expected to swap roles later. But it never came to pass. Barely an hour later, a huge blast set off what would be the worst military loss for Kenya since independence.

Mark’s colleague was among the first to react to the blast. He raised his head to respond to the enemy. Before he could fire his first shot, an enemy bullet lodged into his chest, killing him instantly. As blood gushed out of his colleague’s lifeless body, Mark stepped out of his sleeping bag, concurrently taking aim. He brought down two enemies before jumping over the wire fence to make a miraculous escape.

It was the longest half hour of close misses and deafening explosions and gunfire. This is the first account of an El Adde survivor, as told to The Standard on Sunday.

“I was in my sleeping bag. I had hardly slept that night. Before the attack, I had made some calls to a friend and that is how I remember the time,” Mark recalls. “I watched my colleague’s body roll into the trench. He had gone up first to see what was going on. They must have thought that he was the only one in the trench. His death hit me hard. I understood at once that I needed to summon everything I could put into the fight if I was going to survive.” Mark told us.

The situation was so fierce that continued engagement with the enemy was not an option. He had to preserve his life. Later, he would face concerns by the KDF that together with other survivors, he should be punished “for abandoning their camp at the hour of need.”

The soldier, who is now a former shell of himself, says the nightmare for about 280 KDF started from the gate when a swarm of insurgents descended on them.

“There were about 10 men at the gate. It was impossible to fight them, with my friend already taken. You would shoot one and there are 20 guns shooting back at you. It was horrific. I could not go back. They came to kill and they did,” he recalls.

He estimates that at least 210 died, or were captured in the early morning attack, the worst military loss for Kenya. Official reports have placed the dead at 141. However survivors’ accounts have called this number into doubt.

Mark suggests that it is highly probable that grieving families may have buried bodies that did not belong to their kin, following the hurried DNA-testing to identify the badly damaged corpses. He gave a rare peak into the deadly battle one year later, where only eight survivors from the group of 180 soldiers from the Eldoret-based 9th Rifle Battalion’s D Company escaped without injuries.

Another 15 of these heroes escaped with injuries of varying degrees. Mark’s escape was possible because he and another soldier covered for each other, before jumping over the fence and beginning a three-day trek, without an ounce of sleep and a drop of water.