Nairobi, Kenya: More than 80 Kenya Defence Forces personnel were affected when Al-Shabaab militants attacked their base in Somalia, the government said yesterday.
Most of them are so far yet to be traced and a search and rescue mission is ongoing in the area.
Some of the soldiers are being held by the Al-Shabaab militants and being used as human shields.
Defence Cabinet Secretary Rachael Omamo said the attack was carried out by terrorists using vehicle borne improvised explosive devices (VBIED) commandeered by suicide bombers.
"The soldiers affected by the attack are a company size force," said Ms Omamo. She did not reveal if they are dead, missing or injured.
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In the military, a company is a unit, typically consisting of 80–250 soldiers and usually commanded by a major or a captain.
An emotional Omamo said a search, rescue and recovery operation have been ongoing since the attack and would continue until all those affected are recovered.
She spoke after receiving four soldiers who were injured in the attack in their camp on Friday morning. They were flown to Wilson Airport, Nairobi aboard two private jets.
This happened as two other soldiers were rescued in the area and taken to Basura KDF camp. One of them was injured in the leg.
Ms Omamo was accompanied by Chief of Defence Forces Gen Samson Mwathethe, Army Commander Lieutenant General Leonard Ngondi and Kenya Airforce Commander Samuel Thuita.
She said the operation area remains dangerous, volatile and fluid and soldiers still remain at risk.
"Information regarding casualties and the fallen is being availed to affected families directly as rescue, recovery, verification and consolidation operations continue."
Gen Mwathethe revealed some of the KDF personnel are in the hands of the Al-Shabaab terrorists and are being used as human shield hence hampering further attacks.
He revealed how the attackers used three vehicles borne improvised explosive devices (VBIED) to strike before being followed with suicide bombers.
They apparently arrived in three such vehicles with one targeting a Somali National Army base while two went to the KDF one.
They ran past two main roadblocks before they stopped inside the camp where there were other explosives.
Therein, they were detonated before the suicide bombers went on with their mission setting the camp on fire.
Gen Mwathethe said the blood of the fallen heroes was not shed in vain.
"We will fight them deep in their hideouts, we will smoke them out of their caves and we will follow to the end in honour of every drop of our Kenyans," he added
Both Gen Mwathethe and Ms Omamo said the search and rescue mission may take time and pleaded for patience from the families of the affected and Kenyans at large.
"We ask you to continue to hold up our soldiers and their families in prayer and to respect their privacy during this time of sorrow and uncertainty," said Ms Omamo.
The affected soldiers are from Eldoret and Gilgil army bases and had just reported there to relieve an older team that left.
And as part of efforts to manage the crisis, Gen Mwathethe said counselling centres had been opened in Eldoret, Gilgil barracks and Forces Memorial Hospital in Nairobi.
The attack happened when Al-Shabaab militants ran over the KDF El-Adde camp in Gedo Friday morning.
Several soldiers are still running for their safety and few are thought to be in the hands of the terrorists as prisoners of war.
And since then, major military activities are ongoing in the region as part of efforts to degrade the enemy, officials said.
Gen Mwathethe said Al-Shabaab is now evolving and competing for space but added that would not undermine their operational and combat capability.
"For the brave men and women of KDF, as we stand for our core values and maintain our vision and mission, I comment you for fighting spirit and professionalism you have displayed. Let us keep the momentum," he said.
Few hours after the officials spoke, a soldier identified as Joseph Muganda was rescued with his injured colleague after two days in the bush.
Muganda had been calling his parents and seniors informing them he had an injured colleague and needed to be rescued.
His father, a senior police officer has been having sleepless nights and had not had proper meal since his son called him first on Friday morning informing him of the attack.
The son said he had a fully loaded gun and was taking care of the injured colleague and where he was hiding he could see KDF planes hovering.
"I can now eat. He has said he has been rescued and taken to a nearby Basura KDF camp," said Shem Muganda, the father of the rescued soldier.
Muganda who was with Eldoret 9KR was among more than a dozen still missing and on the run soldiers.