Beyond enemy lines: Unravelling the return of Shabaab in Lamu

Shabaab attacks

On June 18, 2023, there were twin attacks at Mlima Faru which is between Pandanguo village and Witu town, that claimed the lives of two KDF soldiers and injured several General Service Unit (GSU) officers.

Photo credit: File I Nation Media group

The Lamu security committee has been forced to go back to the drawing board owing to increased terrorist attacks orchestrated by suspected Al-Shabaab militants.

Intelligence reports and an analysis of the attacks in the last two months shows a new pattern where the terrorists have been laying ambush in new areas unlike before.

In recent days, the terrorists have devised new ways of conducting ambushes and killings in Lamu, including creating new terror hotspots along the Lamu-Witu-Garsen road and other routes after the previous ones were sealed off following the establishment of security camps in March 2018.

Terror hotspots the government managed to curb militant attacks include Ndeu, Milihoi, Mambo Sasa, Nyongoro, Lango La Simba, and Gambaon the Lamu-Witu-Garsen road.

There’s also the Mlima Faru along the Witu-Pandanguo route, Kwa Omollo Bridge along the Hindi-Boni Forest-Kiunga Road, among others.

On Tuesday, Al-Shabaab militants conducted twin attacks in the Koreni area and Hindi-Bar’goni that left a cargo lorry extensively damaged.

Eight people also escaped death narrowly after the two morning attacks by the heavily armed Al-Shabaab.

In the recent attacks, security agencies in Lamu have been caught unawares.

For instance, the August 1 attack that left two people dead and ten others injured was conducted at Mwembeni area which is between the two renowned terror hotspots; Nyongoro and Lango La Simba.

Mwembeni is about 4 kilometres from Nyongoro and about five kilometres to Lango La Simba.

On Tuesday, the terrorist also conducted an attack and ambush at a very new place-Koreni, instead of the usual Milihoi area which is about six kilometres away.

The Al-Shabaab also launched an ambush at another unexpected place along the Hindi-Bar’goni road that left a cargo lorry burnt after it was hit with a Rocket-Propelled Grenade (RPG).

Two occupants, including the driver of the lorry and his turn boy, escaped unhurt and hid in the nearby bushes before they were rescued by the General Service Unit (GSU) from Mokowe camp hours later.

The security committee led by County Commissioner Louis Rono, police and military officials undertaking the ongoing multi-agency security operation Amani Boni in the dense Boni Forest met at Witu where they discussed tactics on how they will deal with and end the recurrent attacks in the region.

Between June and August this year, eight people, including the wife of Hindi Ward MCA, James Njaaga were killed while tens of others were injured in Al-Shabaab attacks carried out in various places of Lamu.

“We’ve discussed in length the increased insecurity incidents contributed by Al-Shabaab in this place. We’re confident this Al-Shabaab thing will end in our county. We’re coming up with new tactics since the enemy’s mode of operation seems to evolve with each passing day,” said a security insider who attended the Tuesday meeting.

Between 2014 and 2017, Al-Shabaab militants had formed a tendency of ambushing public passenger vehicles and security vehicles in those hotspots, resulting in the death and injury of civilians and security officers.

But since the establishment of police and Kenya Defense Forces (KDF) camps in the concerned areas, there has been recorded a significant reduction in the number of attacks conducted with some hotspots even recording nil attacks.

Even as the security agencies are busy looking for new tactics to fight the Al-Shabaab insurgents, a majority of Lamu County residents are now questioning the increased cases of insecurity in the region.

According to the residents, the Al-Shabaab militants have turned the region into their playing grounds despite the multi-agency security teams deployed in the region every now and then.

There is also an active operation at the Boni Forest since September 2015.

The operation by the national government was initially dubbed ‘Linda Boni’ with the primary objective being to flush out Al-Shabaab militants believed to be hiding in the dense Boni forest.

The operation, which has undergone various rebranding from Linda Boni to Boni Enclave Campaign, Operation Fagia Msitu, and now Operation Amani Boni (OAB) is still ongoing in efforts to stabilize Lamu and parts of Garissa, Tana River, and Kilifi that border the expansive Boni forest towards the Kenya-Somalia border.

The operation is undertaken jointly by the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF), National Police Service (NPS), Kenya Wildlife Services (KWS), Kenya Forest Service (KFS), and national government administration officers.

KDF is, however, designated as the lead agency.

Mr Rono said the government is doing its best to ensure Lamu is relieved of terrorist elements.

“We have even discussed in our security meeting how we shall be dealing with such issues,” said Mr Rono.

Ali Abdalla expressed discontent with the manner in which the security agencies are dealing with the terrorists.

“It’s very confusing that every corner of this county is having security patrols, operations, and restrictions yet attacks are conducted routinely. The frequency and audacity with which these attacks are occurring lately is raising eyebrows,” said Mr Abdalla.

Mary Wanjiku, a resident of Hindi, said the continued attacks are actually bringing to the fore the reality that there could still be gaps in the security system.

“Sometimes our security agencies even receive early alerts about the attacks but still, nothing is done to curb them. The government needs to come clear on the security status in this place, particularly the issue of Al-Shabaab,” said Ms Wanjiku.

Simon Mwangi put into doubt Kenya’s ability to effectively process intelligence on impending attacks in most areas of Lamu.

Mr Mwangi noted that Lamu is well guarded compared to the rest of the 47 counties.

“It’s, however, disappointing that despite having all the security units in this place, the militants keep on making surprise attacks weekly if not daily. Are our officers really having the ability and effectiveness of intelligence gathering required?” posed Mr Mwangi.

The residents also blamed the government for failing to find proper ways to engage local communities in the war on terror.