President William Ruto’s decision to shake up the country’s top security leadership at the same time has been blamed for the recent surge in terrorist attacks.
A special report by the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED), a security data analysis firm headquartered in Wisconsin in the United States published on September 1, points out that this decision created a security void that Al Shabaab militants have continued to exploit to carry out attacks.
The report also highlights inadequate security cooperation between the Kenyan and Somali governments and the ongoing reduction of African Union Transition Mission in Somalia (ATMIS) troops, which began in June, as factors contributing to the increased attacks.
In June, ATMIS withdrew 2,000 soldiers from Somalia and transferred control of five Forward Operating Bases (FOBs) to Somali forces. Another 3,000 troops are scheduled to be withdrawn by the end of September, with the entire withdrawal planned to occur by December 2024, coinciding with the expiry of ATMIS’ mandate.
The African Union Transition Mission in Somalia (ATMIS) troops in Beletweyne, Somalia on September 6, 2023.
Moreover, the document also points to the weak law enforcement along the Kenya-Somalia border, which it observes has, enabled militants to cross over and find hideouts.
“The militants’ increased presence in Kenya is also reportedly a result of weak law enforcement along the border a situation made worse by the recent simultaneous changes in the country’s security leadership by President William Ruto, which has left a security void that the militants have been exploiting to launch attacks,” reads the report.
These factors, ACLED’s report explains, have allowed Al Shabaab militants to carry out multiple terror attacks, particularly in the four North Eastern counties of Mandera, Garissa, Marsabit, and Wajir.
Along the Kenyan Coast, the porous borders have enabled terrorists to infiltrate Lamu and terrorize the area’s residents.
In response to the increased attacks, the government has collaborated with the Somali and US governments.
However, the report notes that Al Shabaab militants have started employing more advanced tactics.
These include; the utilisation of surveillance drones, the deployment of small specialized units, and the use of false flags.
“In Lamu County, in particular, security officers have been reportedly caught off guard, as militants have been laying ambushes in “new terror hotspots,” the report reads in part.
Additionally, the report highlights, that terrorists aligned with the militant group have taken advantage of increased vegetation cover resulting from recent rainfall, observing this, has provided them with better hiding spots, including within Boni Forest, Garissa County.
“ACLED data shows that despite being pushed towards the border, Al-Shabaab has taken advantage of the terrain in the border regions as strategic hideouts and retained significant operational capacity,” reads the report.
Following the surge in terror attacks, Interior Cabinet Secretary Kithure Kindiki, in July, indefinitely postponed the planned reopening of the Kenya-Somalia border. This decision aimed to allow the government to address the security situation first.
Both the Kenyan and Somali governments, with support from the United States and ATMIS forces, initiated security operations to counter the heightened al-Shabaab activity near the border.
In Somalia, security forces, along with US forces, conducted a series of attacks, including airstrikes, targeting al-Shabaab positions in Kismayo, Jamame, and Afmadow districts in the Lower Juba region during June and July.
The report concludes that coordinated efforts between Kenya and Somalia will be crucial in containing the attacks.
Officers marching during a past national event with arms produced at KOFC
To consolidate his grip on power, President William Ruto, after assuming office, replaced former President Uhuru Kenyatta’s security chiefs with his own men.
In September 2022, Ruto nominated Japhet Koome to be the country’s Inspector General of the National Police Service (NPS). He would later follow that up, weeks later, by appointing Mohamed Amin, the then Internal Affairs Unit head, as the Director of Criminal Investigations (DCI).
In May 2023, Ruto nominated Noordin Haji, the former Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) as the Director General of the National Intelligence Service (NIS).
The Head of State then completed his set with the appointment of General Francis Ogolla as the Chief of the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) in April 2023.