The Changing Trends of Attacks by Al-Shabaab in Kenya

The Changing Trends of Attacks by Al-Shabaab in Kenya


By Ian Micheni


The recent analysis of terror activities in Kenya shows that al-Shabaab has changed their pattern of attacks from soft targets to hard targets. Of concern is how al-Shabaab is shifting its focus from urban to rural areas of North Eastern and Coastal counties where it is targeting security forces.  Since Kenya launched Operation Linda Nchi, the al-Shabaab terror group has been attacking Kenya in retaliation to the latter’s incursion into Somalia. In the last six years, al-Shabaab has staged numerous attacks in Kenya. This has led to an intensified operation by security forces and members of the public across the country leading to arrests and subsequently, failed plots. The terror group since changed its tactics and shifted their focus to North Eastern and Coastal counties and more so targeting security forces. Since 2015, major attacks such as the Garissa University terror attack in North Eastern Province that claimed the lives of one hundred and forty-eight students and injuring over fifty students have had a devastating impact in Kenya. This article provides an up to date assessments of the threats and attacks this terror group poses to Kenya and how the country can prepare itself for future attacks. In addition, the article will try to examine why al-Shabaab has changed its focus from civilian targets to security targets.


A trend in Iraq and Afghanistan show that Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) have targeted security forces in major roads networks in densely populated regions. It is on record that Al-Shabaab rarely used IEDs before as a method of attack and this is different in the scale and devastation. This is because Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) have the potential of generating strategic effects that are greater than their tactical effect. In recent attacks, dozens of Kenyan security forces have lost their lives along the Kenyan-Somalia border following the attacks with IEDsnd landmines planted on the roads by Al-Shabaab.  Of interest is the large-scale operation that it is being conducted against the Kenyan security forces. History shows that IEDs have been made to exterminate adversaries and sway their activities, disgrace them among the populace and demoralize their efforts to achieve their mission, vision and objectives. It is due to such reasons that al-Shabaab have increased the usage of IEDs while at the same time enhancing their weapons and tactics. Since 2015, the group has been targeting security forces inside Somalia, North Eastern, Coastal counties and along the Kenya-Somalia border.  For instance, on May 31, 2017, A Kenyan armored personnel carrier was blown by an IED in Baure, Lamu along the Kenya-Somalia border which left ten people dead. Most of them were security forces drawn from different units. On 15th of January 2016, a suicide bomber detonated an explosive-laden device in El-Adde Somalia that killed dozens of Kenyan soldiers and damaged the AMISOM command and communications buildings as well as the armory and fuel depots of the base. In a press statement, the Kenyan military claimed that the bombs used were three times more powerful than those used by Al-Qaeda in the 1998 US embassy attack where over 200 people died.


In a similar attack at Kenya Defense Forces camp in Kulbiyow, Al-Shabaab insurgents drove two suicide car bombs into the Kulbiyow base.  The terrorist organization claimed that they had killed several Kenyan soldiers, a claim that was refuted by KDF. On 25th of May 2017, in Garissa County near Dadaab refugee center, a vehicle belonging to a local NGO (Adeso) hit a landmine killing four people. In a similar case, on 27th June 2017, a police lorry hit an IED in Kiunga killing eight people. To maximize the impact of the attack, Al-Shabaab sprayed the police lorry with bullets injuring a further 17 people. It’s apparent that al-Shabaab insurgents are increasingly using IEDs as a tactic to inflict maximum impact on Kenyan security forces  in the North Eastern and Coastal counties of Kenya. The shift from attacking civilians indiscriminately to specific groups such Kenyan security forces is a sign of change in the trend of attacks that the terror group is employing.  According to Amb. Kamau Director National Counter Terrorism Agency in Kenya, countries such as the United States with their massive military and financial capabilities are also grappling with the challenges of IEDs due to the ever changing technology used in making IEDs.


It is clear that al-Shabaab are using Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) to prove their continued relevance, demoralize and divert the attention of the Kenyan security forces.  The aim is to gain media coverage and taint the Kenyan Security forces. On the other hand, critics argue that countering IED attacks is a relatively new phenomenon in the Kenyan Military doctrine. Dealing with such threats requires a multinational effort based on a holistic approach that addresses the networks that design and plant the device. In addition, there is a need for social political collaboration with the environment that facilitates IED employment. This is because these operational requirements that entail financing, bomb making specialist, planners and suppliers thrive in the environment that these IEDs are planted and executed. In countering such attacks, the Kenyan forces ought to start with a complete and holistic understanding of the al-Shabaab activities and the common deeds connected with IED attack in order to break the al-Shabaab operative cycle. In addition, the government should employ both lethal and nonlethal methods to curtail al-Shabaab access, freedom of movement to plant the IED and constant pressure to deny al-Shabaab resources. This will enable the Kenyan Security Forces to win more ground combined with day to day operations intended to dislocate the people, process and materials that support the IEDs design and supply chain.


On the other hand, western powers have developed a doctrine that provides commanders and staff with a broad framework on how to conduct operations to counter the threat of Improvised Explosive Devices. The doctrine is frequently updated and reviewed to meet the changes and occurrences. States such as the USA have employed certain strategies to counter these attacks. For instance, they have created the counter terrorism alert system that warns the government and key sectors. The USA has also created a special unit within the military that arrest and detain those suspected of using IEDs as a form of attack. In addition, they have been taking down websites that use hate speech, call for violence and use of profiling as a form of violence. Such tactics should be incorporated into the Kenyan military to counter the threats of IEDs attacks. Dealing with such change of tactics requires advanced technology and astute military skills to counter the attacks.



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