Kenyan troops will not leave Somalia any time soon, Chief of Defence Forces General Robert Kibochi has said.
In an interview with KBC, Kibochi said Somalia is unstable and their security forces still need support from the African Mission to Somalia.
Gen Kibochi, the highest-ranking soldier, said Kenya is actively engaging stakeholders, including the UN, to intervene and stop the Ethiopian civil war.
The general said that the civil war in Ethiopia poses a major security threat to Kenya.
The fighting will lead to an influx of refugees and illegal guns, he said.
“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.
On Amisom, Kibochi said they are pushing for mandate and funding changes to enable the organisation 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.
Kibochi said the 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.
Kibochi spoke at the Department of Defence headquarters at Ulinzi House in Nairobi.
Expectations were that Kenyan troops will leave Somalia at the end of this year.
The defence chief said unlike between 2011 and 2012 when dozens of grenades and other weapons were being smuggled from Somalia, the trend had significantly dropped.
Gen Kibochi 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.
The military chief explained the current formation of Amisom makes it a force and argued one can not win a war with force only.
He said they need police to carry out civilian work which soldiers cannot do.
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.
The government saw the attacks as a threat to the country’s sovereignty as it targeted tourism, which is an economic lifeline.
Gen Kibochi said Amisom is underfunded as compared to other missions regionally and hence need to be a 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 to 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.
The general 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 neighbouring Afar region, opening a new front in the war after eight months of conflict.
Leaders of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, 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.
The expansion of the conflict beyond the borders of Tigray adds to concerns of escalation and prolonged war.
Gen Kibochi said he is ready to retire from the service in two years’ time and hopes to leave it a better and ready outfit to face conventional and new threats.
The Covid- 19 pandemic and the locusts invasion taught the military a lesson and the forces are working to makes troops mission-ready.
“We are working to ensure we have a toolbox with all needed tools to deal with any form of threat. We were used to conventional war but Covid and locusts have come to tell us we need more in terms of equipment and welfare,” he said.
Gen Kibochi said the military is constructing regional hospitals in Eldoret and Isiolo to help troops address medical needs. Another level six hospital will be built at the Kabete barracks.
He said the death rate from Covid of Kenyan soldiers is less than one per cent. They have opened a modern hospital at Kabete and Lang’ata barracks to handle cases in the army.
As part of modernisation programme, Kibochi said they are partnering with private agencies to construct 3,000 housing units for the troops in Nairobi, Mombasa, Eldoret, Nakuru and Isiolo.
Gen Kibochi said they have made it mandatory for all troops returning from war to undergo a two-month counselling programme.
“We have a wellness centre at Lang’ata which is dealing with the stress issues among the troops and their families. We know mental problems related to war are serious.”
Gen Kibochi said they have changed the training curriculum to accommodate contemporary issues to be able to get what they need.
“You cannot compare a recruit from Nairobi, Mombasa or Mandera. They are different and hence need to have changes for slow adoption,” he added.