It’s not like Hollywood: Why one Kenyan airstrike in Somalia went awry

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KDF Mi-24 helicopter

The incident has again cast a harsh spotlight on the seeming inability of the KDF to avoid hitting the wrong targets in its air campaigns.

By Jeff Mwaura, jeff@alleastafrica.com

NAIROBI – On July 18, Kenyan intelligence forces received a quick intelligence tipoff about an al-Shabab gathering near the port city of Kismayo, perhaps one of the most important alerts they could have that needed an immediate action.

Scrambling to act, An air force helicopter was immediately sent out, with the hope of striking an important target to inflict major losses on al-Shabab. However, the latter has turned out to be the opposite after the helicopter struck a wedding party, killing several civilians, including women.

The bombing has unfortunately turned a moment of happiness into a tragic one, with dead bodies lying next to each other on a blood-spattered ground.

The overnight airstrike which largely targeted residential areas has also sent hundreds of residents fleeing for cover across the largely dense bushland.

Residents and officials told Alleastafrica that the misdirected airstrike occurred as a result of wrong information allegedly provided by the Kenya-backed regional administration, Jubbaland led by Ahmed Madobe, a former Islamist leader.

With thousands of armed militia called Raskamboni which enjoys a greater support by the United States Department of Defense (DoD) which trains them, Jubbaland officials opted to remain tightlipped about the incident which sparked concerns among Somali officials and local residents.

It has again cast a harsh spotlight on the seeming inability of the KDF to avoid hitting the wrong targets in its air campaigns.

INCIDENT IMPLICATIONS

For locals, the certain airstrike had its own specific and complex circumstances. But officials said almost all the mistaken strikes over the years have come down to two main reasons: Faulty intelligence, and what military strategists call “the fog of war,” referring to the confusion of the battlefield.

Therefore, confusion remains, with  helpless residents called for KDF to come up with a better intelligence strategy by avoiding to rely on local forces to pinpoint certain targets, so that repeating further disastrous incidents like the wedding airstrike would be avoided,

In the meantime, journalists on the ground offered their assistance in discovering what has exactly happened.

One local reporter whom we would keep his identity secret for personal safety concerns has since embarked on an undercover investigation  and caught up with Abdirashid, the governor of Lower Jubba region in which the incident occurred and inquired who has provided the wrong tipoffs to KDF that led to the loss of civilian lives.

“Of course it’s not by SNA(Somali National Army) because they are called welfare troops.” he said, before he was asked if he meant that the administration’s militia members have instead provided it.

” Sort of.” he cut short before dropping accusations against Somali army “Even the SNA has become a militia-affiliated ones. They kicked out most of indigenous people that do not belong to them.”

However, the militia, themselves haven’t been immune from serious allegations.

For years, there have been reports that the administration’s militia have committed crimes against humanity, something the regional officials have so far failed to address.

Last year, a report by the United Nations Somalia and Eritrea monitoring group alleged that Somalia became one of the worst places in the world, alleging that civilians are abused, unlawfully arrested and killed without a reason in areas under Jubbaland’s control.

U.S SUPPORT

In the meantime, the local reporter pushed the governor to comment on why  his administration continue to enjoy the American taxes payers  money despite its questionable record of human rights. Hundreds of people have reportedly been killed in the hands of the militia in recent years.

“I don’t have an answer to that question.” Abdirashid said dismissively.

Ahmed Madobe

However, Mr. Madobe, a friendly leader who keeps a tight grip on the administration continues to use multiple channels including close associates from his tribe to maintain the US support to the regional administration, keeping  others from rival clans out.

Among the associated and the right hand man of Mr. Madobe is Mohamud Ali, a former Voice of America’s Somali service as well as a translator for the US Embassy  in Nairobi who acts like the region’s ambassador of the united states.

Despite  being on the embassy’s payroll, Mr. Ali, who is also the new US site coordinator is also on Jubbaland’s payroll system, earning more than 5 times than the embassy does pay him.

Ali, a Somali-American, seen by many as a powerful but elusive political broker has held subsequent meetings with Somali prime minister in recent months, in violation of his employment contract which bars him from holding meeting with those whom he was supposed to keep eye on for corruption.

According to local officials, Mr. Ali who is acting in line with Mr. Madobe’s internal policy of alienating certain tribes has subsequently recommended the US to take no notice of certain clans other than the administration’s dominant clan, which he said would be able to liberate towns under al-Shabab control alone.

Meanwhile, Somali government remains unconvinced over the regional administration’s policies, urging the US to be neutral in dealing with all political stakeholders in the region by the same token.  They also warned  Mr. Ali who is currently working with US on assisting Somali army should stop dictating conditions for SNA.

Nevertheless, details about the mysterious airstrike remain closely held by local officials who said the area had been under surveillance for days before the strike— suggesting the fault lay with the intelligence analysis used to plan the strike.

(Additional reporting by a freelance journalist in Kismayo, Somalia, editing by John Thiongo)

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