Four years later, government remains tight-lipped on El Adde attack

Explosion at KDF base was three times more powerful than that in the 1998 US bombing.

In Summary

• On January 15, 2016, Kenya’s military forces suffered their worst attack in Somalia during an ambush on its camp in El–Adde

• Despite an inquiry by the KDF and a parliamentary investigation, there is not yet a full public account of the battle and the lessons that should be drawn from it.

Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta (C) prepares to lay a wreath to pay respects to the Kenyan soldiers who were killed in El Adde during an attack.
Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta (C) prepares to lay a wreath to pay respects to the Kenyan soldiers who were killed in El Adde during an attack.

Today marks exactly four years since Al Shabaab militants staged the most brutal and brazen attack yet on Kenyan troops when they staged an assault at the KDF base in El Adde, in the Gedo region near the Kenyan border.

It remains possibly, the deadliest blitz on the Africa Mission in Somalia (Amisom), surpassing the death toll of the Garissa University attack where 147 people were killed.

The El Adde attack was claimed by Saleh An-Nabhani Battalion, an al Shabaab faction named after Mombasa-born Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, who was killed during the United States Navy SEALs' raid in 2009.


The group is said to comprise of specialists in suicide bombings and bush ambush.

As Kenya came to terms with the massacre, government officials including commander-in-chief President Uhuru Kenyatta, Chief of Defence Forces General Samson Mwathethe and the then Defence CS Rachael Omamo promised a thorough investigation and a "painful lesson" to the militants.

On January 15, 2016, the terrorists ran over the KDF military camp and butchered KDF soldiers working under the Amisom command in one of the country’s darkest battleground losses.

However, the precise extent of that defeat and many of the details have still not been made public.

Despite an inquiry by the KDF and a parliamentary investigation, there is not yet a full public account of the battle and the lessons that should be drawn from it.

There has also not been much of a public debate about what it means for the African Union Mission in Somalia.


The government has remained tight-lipped on numbers of casualties that arose from the deadly incursion.


The El Adde incursion was the third Amisom forward operating base overrun by al Shabaab in seven months.

Four years later, the Kenyan government has kept the country guessing on the casualties.

While the exact number of Kenyan troops killed has never been divulged, it was estimated to have been close to 200.

Somali President Hassan Shiekh Mohamud then put the figure at "180 or close to 200 soldiers" during an interview with a Somali-based TV station.

Mohamud's claim was angrily dismissed by KDF spokesperson Colonel David Obonyo, who termed it reckless.

“It was a head of state who personally talked about this. I don’t know his source of information so it is only him who can clarify,” he said.

Defence experts said the El Adde attack was conducted in a style increasingly being used by Middle East-linked Islamic State, aka Isis, aka Daesh, in its attacks.

For instance, Daesh fighters launched at least 27 vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs) that destroyed Iraqi security forces’ defensive perimeters and crumbled multi-storey buildings.

It is meant to perpetuate maximum casualties.

On the contrary, in the video, the pre-dawn ambush starts when a young man Abduqadir Ali aka Farhan, drives a vehicle laden with explosives into the camp and detonates it.

Military sources said the VBIEDs used in the attack were made from an armoured personnel carrier (APC), captured from Burundian peace-keepers in June the previous year and taken to the outskirts of El Adde from Wargadud, 40 kilometres north of the Kenyan base.

The base compound housed a Company-sized garrison of men belonging to both the 9th and 5th Kenya Rifles.

According to military sources, both Kenyan Rifle Battalions had been detached to the El-Adde base only two weeks beforehand.

The total size of the garrison that day has been generally put at around 200 Kenyan troops present.

According to CDF General Samson Mwathethe, and the then KDF spokesman, the explosion was three times more powerful in comparison to the 1998 United States embassy bombings in Nairobi.

He said the massive blast damaged the command and communications buildings, as well as an armoury and fuel depots of the base, killing dozens of soldiers.

Al Shabaab named the suicide bomber as AbduQadir Ali.

The suicide explosion was a precursor to an estimated 150 to 300 al Shabaab fighters assaulting the base with rocket-propelled grenades and assault weapons.

The attack caught Kenyan troops unprepared and asleep.

At approximately 7:30 a.m, the battle lasted for more than one hour of fierce fighting until Kenyan troops were routed from the base and fled into the dense bush pursued by Al Shabaab militants.

Sources said a neighbouring Somali National Army (SNA) base located 600 meters away from the Amisom base, was empty of troops, who allegedly left after they were pre-warned hours before the attack.

Mwathethe later said the attack involved "several" vehicle-borne explosive devices.

He explained that in the attack the militants used a lead vehicle as a decoy or a barrier-buster, with the intention that when stopped by security forces for inspection, a second one this time fitted with heavy explosives would come crashing into their target before detonating.

Tactical failures

CNN later reported that the ease with which the militants breached barriers at El Adde surprised many security analysts especially since the same style of assault had been seen before in bloody attacks on Amisom forces.

CNN said a diplomat based in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, had said the attack was a  clear "tactical disaster" for the Kenyan troops.

"How can 200 al Shabaab militants walk across a field in broad daylight without the Kenyan troops noticing? Where were the KDF's machine guns?" he asked adding that that was contrary to everything they have been taught, and should be doing in a hostile environment

According to experts, al Shabaab tactics should thus have been predictable. Yet, problems to do with poor operational setup and procedures, and the decision to deploy such vulnerable forward operating bases in remote areas, garrisoned by so few troops, had persisted.

Al Shabaab claimed to have captured 12 Kenyan soldiers, including the commanding officer after the battle.

These soldiers according to Mwathethe, are being used by the militants as a human shield.

Though Obonyo rubbished reports that the country had lost over 180 of its soldiers a new death toll from available open-source information indicated that the deaths ranged from 141 to 185 Kenyan troops, including all officers killed in Action.

Around 40 survivors managed to escape and an unknown number are still unaccounted for.

Sources said DNA samples were taken from at least 143 bodies at the scene, most of which were burned beyond recognition.

Under the Amisom peacekeeping mission, Kenya has about 3,000 troops manning sector 2.

Global terrorism database compiled by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Response to Terrorism (better known as Start indicates between 2013 and 2017, Kenya has suffered 373 terror attacks, leaving 929 people dead, 1,149 injured and 666 taken hostage.

Despite the loss, President Uhuru Kenyatta has maintained that KDF soldiers will remain in Somalia until the militants are wiped out.