KDF priest keeps a gun on his left shoulder and a Bible on his right hand
By Nyambega Gisesa | October 15th 2021
When he went to Somalia in 2011, his mission was to pray for and lift the morale of Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) troops who had just crossed the border into unfamiliar territory in pursuit of the ragtag Al-Shabaab militants.
Ten years later, Catholic priest George Makau has not just become a veteran of the war but the exploits against the militants have also turned the Man of God into both a prayer warrior and a war machine.
“I am back in Somalia,” the priest, who became the first military chaplain and first clergyman to be deployed to the front line, told The Nairobian this week.
In the frontlines, clergymen like Father Makau provide solace and fortitude to the troops. They are also expected to be always there for the injured and normally provide the last respect sermons for fallen troops. In the event that they fall sick, get injured or die in battle, it is likely the priest will be by their side, anointing them, boosting their morale or ultimately escorting them back home.
Now aged 58, and at the sunset of his military career, the chaplain still keeps a rifle on his left shoulder, a Bible and a rosary in his right hand. As a chaplain, Fr Makau would normally not be allowed to carry a gun, but with his involvement in an unconventional war, he carries one for self-defence.
He has been shot at and in mid-September 2012, he dodged a roadside bomb meant to kill him and his fellow troops. He was injured and airlifted back to the military hospital in Nairobi for treatment. On another occasion, he was shot in his leg and underwent surgery for six hours.
But nothing defines his military deployment in Somalia like the fight at Hoosingo, a town located in South Somalia, whose liberation was one of the defining moments for the KDF incursion in Somalia and one of the bloodiest battles to date.
In the battle, what was supposed to be Al Shabaab’s best-planned attack on a KDF position in Somalia miserably failed and led to the massacre of a large number of the militants. On January 22, 2022, KDF troops were sent to liberate Hoosingo, a mid-level town in South Somalia. The forces were expected to link up with then Somalia’s Transitional Federation Forces(TFG) for the task. The TFG has since transitioned into the Somali National Army(SNA).
Before they could link up, the Kenyans ran into an ambush at 2200 hours straight into a battle that ensued for the next two hours. Everything in Hoosingo was going awry. First, before the start of the fateful month, KDF had done redeployment which resulted in the reduction of men at the Hoosingo base.
Unknown to the Kenyans, the Al-Shabaab was monitoring the movements of KDF and had secretly assembled a force to wipe out the Kenyans.
“They attacked us in their hundreds. It was like a swarm of bees coming on at us,” recalled Father Makau.
In the battle, about 100 KDF men fought over 1,000 Al-Shabaab fighters who attacked the camp in battalions of 100 soldiers each, sending them to their deaths every 45 minutes.
The battle lasted six hours and 20 minutes and almost 400 Al-Shabaab fighters were buried in the next days.
“We shot, shot, and shot until we got tired. The more we wounded, the more reinforcements they brought in,” recalled Father Makau.
So, by the time the engagement was starting, the Kenyans were outnumbered, had little ammunition, and, it being a rainy season had made it difficult to quickly mobilize reinforcements or even escape.
“Outnumbered by almost one to several dozens, we had to die fighting,” the Father recalled.
To make matters worse, even before the march to liberate the town could start, an Al-Shabaab snipper took out two KDF platoon Commanders Lt Edward Juma Okoto and Lt Kevin Anumunyi Webi, from inside their operating base.
The killing of the two left the force demoralized and a number of soldiers without proper command. KDF had to ferry two other platoon commanders all the way from Eldoret Barracks to fill in the gap.
The battle could become the saddest day for the Kenyan troops since they had crossed over into Somalia in October 2011 after the loss of the two-platoon commanders, the soldiers told the Standard during a previous visit to Hoosingo.
Since January 22, 2012, the troops could stay put for about three months fighting of Al-Shabaab attacks until April 4, 2012, when reinforcements finally arrived.
“For those months, I cracked jokes to boost the morale of the troops,” he recalled.
When the Al-Shabaab finally led a major ambush at the base, Father Makau recalls that the shooting was so rapid and from all directions that even the most battle-hardened soldier could have lost his cool.
Taking up his gun, he joined the rest of the troops in engaging the enemy for hours.
After the first two hours, he recalls telling the Officer Commanding Lt Col Nyaga (Now Brig) that the ammunition was running out.
“I called my second in command (Major Hillary Busienei) and told him to deploy anyone, including the cooks, for reinforcement and to move supplies from Dobley (sector headquarters) to Hoosingo,” Brigadier Nyaga recalled in a past event.
So as to salvage the situation, Brig Nyaga had to turn to his friend and former training colleague at the Kenya Military Academy, jet fighter pilot Lt Col John Omenda (Now, a Major General Omenda and Commander Kenya Air Force) for aerial support.
Father Makau belongs to the Military Ordinariate in Kenya. By 2019, the Ordinariate had a total of 27 priests, according to information obtained from the church. Father Benjamin Maswili is the current Apostolic Administrator of the Military Ordinariate.
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