Enemy in the Forest – Kenya’s “Operation Linda Boni”

Conflict In Context - Field Notes

LAMU, Kenya – Al-Shabaab, al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Somalia, released a statement on its media website claiming recent attacks in parts of northeastern Kenya.

At around 6 am on Wednesday, November 25th, Special Forces and Ranger Strike Force battalions were patrolling near the town of Galmagala, the outermost perimeters of the deployment area, when they encountered 15-20 al-Shabaab fighters in jungle camouflage uniforms and armed with PMK and AK-47 assault rifles.

An exchange of gun fire ensued. A high-ranking Kenya Defense Forces officer is said to have been shot and seriously wounded.

The attack took place in Garissa county, near the Somali-Kenya border, where in April al-Shabaab killed at least 148 people at Garissa University.

Northeast Province (aka Northern Frontier District) includes Mandera and Garissa counties, which run the length of the Kenya-Somalia border. The region is inhabited mainly by ethnic Somalis and disputed since Kenya’s independence in 1963.

The conflict continues. The Al-Shabaab statement said its fighters had launched “military operations in occupied Northeast Province of Kenya”.

Attacks in Kenya’s northeast began in 2014 when the group killed dozens in towns in Lamu county. The brutal attacks against non-Muslims continued in Mandera county. In December 2014, the group killed more than 48 – many teachers and quarry workers – in two separate incidents near the border town of Mandera.

The assaults in Lamu county are thought to have been staged in the dense and sprawling Boni Forest, also in Kenya’s northeast region.

On September 11, 2015 Kenya’s security chiefs launched Operation Linda Boni (“Protect the Boni”) ostensibly intended to flush out the militants from the forest.

One month later Kenya authorities told reporters that most of the 300-strong militants who infiltrated the forest had abandoned their camps and retreated to Somalia.

However, at a recent high-level meeting (attended by representatives with USAID) held near Lamu, security forces said they had mapped out 13 areas they identified as “hotbeds of jihadism” linked to multiple terror attacks in Tana River, Garissa and Lamu counties in the last two years.

Operation Linda Boni is in its third month of a three month deployment. To prevent al-Shabaab from returning, security agents announced they’d set up nine additional camps in the forest, as well as permanent housing for its officers. They add they will problem extend the deployment two years.

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