Kenya troops 'pull out of Somali el-Ade and Badhadhe bases'

  • 26 January 2016
  • From the section Africa
Military pallbearers carry the coffins of four Kenyan soldiers who were killed in Somalia, at a ceremony to receive their bodies which were airlifted to Wilson Airport in Nairobi, Kenya Monday, 18 January 2016 Image copyright AP
Image caption No official figures have been released about the number of troops killed

Kenyan forces have pulled out from two military bases in Somalia, including one attacked by militant Islamist group al-Shabab, residents have told the BBC.

Al-Shabab fighters have seized the southern town of Badhadhe after the troops retreated, a local MP said.

Soldiers also left el-Ade, where al-Shabab said it had killed about 100 Kenyan soldiers 11 days ago.

A Kenyan army spokesman said troops were involved in a "normal operational manoeuvre" and not a withdrawal.

Kenya, which contributes about 4,000 troops to the 22,000-strong African Union force battling the militants in Somalia, has not said how many of its soldiers died in the attack on el-Ade, which is in the south-western region of Gedo.

If al-Shabab figures are correct, it would make it the deadliest attack on Kenyan forces since they crossed into Somalia in 2011.

'Under siege'

Somali MP Mohamed Ismail Shurie told the BBC it was "unfortunate" that Kenyan troops had withdrawn from Badhadhe, some 100km (62 miles) from the border of the two countries.

"We feel very bad that three years since it was liberated, Badhadhe has fallen to al-Shabab again," he said.

The town had been under siege, with militants blocking almost all roads leading to it, says BBC Somalia analyst Abdullahi Abdi.

Residents in el-Ade told the BBC they welcomed the pull-out from their town, as they had been subjected to constant harassment and air strikes from Kenyan forces since the assault on the base.

Several civilians had been killed during the Kenyan operation, they added.

Analysis: Tomi Oladipo, BBC Monitoring Africa security correspondent

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Kenyans have been paying tribute to the soldiers killed

The withdrawal of Kenyan troops from the two bases is not unusual in a war situation, especially after the embarrassing al-Shabab assault on el-Ade. Kenyan security has been compromised in the town, and troops could be at risk of another attack. The troops are therefore being relocated, away from the wreckage and possible booby traps laid by al-Shabab in the area.

Wherever the Kenyans pitch their tents, they will be looking to commanders of the AU force to improve co-ordination between themselves and the Somali army, following the contradictory accounts that the two gave of the al-Shabab raid.

Reports from Somalia suggest that the Kenyan army has not been winning the hearts and minds of residents, even though they are recapturing some towns from al-Shabab.

This is something that it will have to address - or residents could end up colluding with al-Shabab, putting Kenyan troops under greater threat in a country where many people are deeply suspicious of foreign intervention.

What happened when al-Shabab attacked el-Ade base?

In a BBC interview, army spokesman Col David Obonyo denied this, saying only an al-Shabab camp had been targeted.

Kenya has said that the bombs used by insurgents at the el-Ade base were three times more powerful than that used by al-Qaeda in the 1998 US embassy attack in the capital, Nairobi, which left 224 people dead.

Col Obonyo said some of the soldiers killed in el-Ade had been identified, but DNA tests were still being conducted to identify the rest.

The BBC's Emmanuel Igunza reports from the Kenyan town of Eldoret that families there have been asked to provide DNA samples to help identify what are believed to be badly mutilated bodies.

The families are anxious, and it has been a long and agonising wait for them, he says.

Col Obonyo, who refused to divulge how many soldiers were killed or wounded in the el-Ade assault, said Kenyan forces were not "withdrawing from any of our positions in Somalia".

"Nobody says we must be in that camp. We can operate from another site."

Last week, Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta told a memorial service for the fallen soldiers that Kenyan troops would stay in Somalia despite the attack.

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