KDF Chief: We won't leave Somalia any time soon

Lt General Robert Kibochi at a past media briefing. He is set to retire this year. [Photo/KDF, Twitter]

NAIROBI, Kenya - The Kenya Defense Forces [KDF] will stay in Somalia for a little while, the senior-most officer has said, ruling out the possibility to exit at the end of the year as planned by the African Union Mission in Somalia.

Under the Somali Transition Plan [STP], it is anticipated that all troops serving under AMISOM will leave by the end of 2021, upon which, they shall hand over security responsibilities to the Somali National Army [SNA].

But in an interview with Kenya's state broadcaster KBC, Chief of Defense Forces Gen. Robert Kibochi ruled out exit this year, adding that KDF is pushing for mandate and funding changes to enable the organization to achieve its goals.

“We cannot be in Somalia forever. Just like the USA which has left Afghanistan after a long war with militants, we will also leave when our objective is achieved,” he said.

But even with an anticipated longer stay in Somalia, Gen. Kibochi said Kenyan troops have already had a huge impact in Somalia by opening up 14 major areas initially under al Shabaab control.

“We have opened up roads, hospitals, and made towns bustling. Kismayu, Dobley, and other towns are now bustling. We have degraded al Shabaab in a major way,” he said.

The defense chief said unlike between 2011 and 2012 when dozens of grenades and other weapons were being smuggled from Somalia, the trend had significantly dropped.

He said Kenya and other countries are pushing to have Amisom funded by the UN. This is because one of the main donors, the European Union, has stopped supporting the mission.

This has necessitated a reconfiguration of the operations of the mission which is likely to be done during the coming UN Security Council meeting in October 2021.

“Assessment is being done on what is needed to be done. African Union finished the exercise and we hope an announcement will be made in October,” he said.

Before his interview on Wednesday, the Department of Defense had already indicated the possibility of a longer stay in Somalia following the promotion of Major General Albert Kendagor, the immediate Army Deputy Commander to Lieutenant General. He was also appointed AMISOM Force Commander designate.

This means upon the exit of Lieutenant General Diomede Ndegeya who is from Burundi, Lt. General Kendagor will take over. A Force Commander serves for a period of one uninterrupted year in the AMISOM.

This year marks a decade since the Kenyan troops went to Somalia. Kenyan troops went to Somalia on October 14, 2011, under Operation Linda Nchi to pursue al Shabaab terrorists who had staged abductions in Kenya and launched attacks. Kenya deploys 3,500 soldiers on a rotational basis.

Gen Kibochi said Amisom is underfunded as compared to other missions regionally and hence needs to be an UN-run force for effectiveness.

“You can't cover all the areas of focus with the low funding. We need more funding, resources. The law says the mission needs 12 helicopters yet it is only Kenya and Uganda that currently have choppers in the areas.”

The military chief added they will continue to push for the classification of al Shabaab as a terrorist group as part of efforts to contain its activities. He denied claims the Kenyan troops are engaged in the sale of charcoal and challenged those making them table evidence.

“No evidence so far on the claims. We know charcoal is a source of revenue for locals and al Shabaab. No evidence that the Kenyan troops are involved in this trade and if anyone wants to stop it let them stop charcoal burning which is rampant,” he said.

His sentiments come after an independent report by African Union also warned against the exit of AMISOM. The report called for a reorganization of the force, noting that the Somali army is not yet stable to take over.

General Kibochi also raised concerns about the ongoing war in Ethiopia, which saw the federal army clash with regional Tigray Defense Forces [TDF]. The war has left thousands of people mostly civilians dead in the Tigray region.

“Ethiopia is strategic to us and the ongoing conflict there is a concern to us. We have raised the issue with the UN to intervene for stability,” he said.

He said they fear Ethiopia may degenerate into chaos like in Somalia and South Sudan. There is a need for intervention to stop the fighting between regional troops Tigray Defence Forces and Ethiopian National Defence Forces.

Fighters from Tigray in northern Ethiopia are fighting against pro-government troops in the neighboring Afar region, opening a new front in the war after eight months of conflict.

Leaders of the TDF, which ran Ethiopia for almost three decades and is now at war with the central government, told news agencies that Tigrayan forces were in Afar. The region is a transit point for goods from landlocked Ethiopia to the large seaport in Djibouti.


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