Unknown fate of Kenyan hostages clouds KDF gains
Unknown fate of Kenyan hostages clouds KDF gains
As the Kenya Defence Forces push closer to Somalia’s port town of Kismayu to dislodge Al-Shabaab militants, the families of Kenyans abducted by the insurgency group are worried about what the assault on the port town portends for their kin.
According to the military, there are 10 Kenyans in the hands of Al-Shabaab, among them two military officers and two administrators whose fate now heavily depends on the outcome of the battle for Kismayu. The rest of the captives are civilians.
Military sources who did not wish to be named discussing such a sensitive issue without approval from their superiors said intelligence reports indicate that most of the Kenyan hostages are not actually in Kismayu but a town near it.
However, Al-Shabaab is beating a hasty retreat following a crushing defeat at the hands of KDF and Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government forces, and its fighters are increasingly seeking refuge in Kismayu, their last stronghold.
Following the fall in quick succession of Afgoye and Afmadhow towns, KDF has stated that it intends to liberate Kismayu by August.
This is indeed welcome news for the war-weary soldiers and the general public, but the uncertainty surrounding the fate of abducted Kenyans casts a dark cloud over what would otherwise be a celebratory achievement for KDF.
It is not yet clear if KDF’s strategies to capture the town also include plans to rescue the hostages. However, it is instructive to note that Defence minister Yusuf Haji recently said that rescuing the hostages is not the work of the military but that of the Internal Security ministry, a docket he now holds in an acting capacity.
Mr Haji’s position raises more confusion since the hostages are held in a foreign land, which places the task of rescuing them in the hands of the KDF, which deals with external threats.
Sunday marks 11 months since two Kenyan soldiers were abducted by the militant group after they strayed nearly 100 kilometres into Somali territory on a routine re-supply mission on the Kenyan-Somalia border town of Wajir.
This was three months before the commencement of Operation Linda Nchi to neutralise the threat to national security posed by the insurgents who had, until then, made repeated incursions into the country.
Sergeant Jonathan Kipkosgei Kangogo, service number 69359, and Corporal Evans Mutoro, service number 78658, fell into the hands of the militant group on the morning of July 24 last year after they escaped from the custody of Somalia’s TFG forces who had initially intercepted them on suspicion that they were Al-Shabaab elements.
The two, alongside Sergeant Said Abdulazia Haji, were on routine re-supply missions of various KDF units in North Eastern when they lost their way, according to a statement delivered in Parliament by Defence assistant minister Joseph Nkaiserry last September.
The two soldiers, who have since been classified as missing or captured, were initially arrested along with Sergeant Haji who was the driver of the truck they were using. The three are from the Transport Battalion at Kahawa Garrison.
According to Mr Nkaiserry’s statement, the two soldiers escaped from the custody of the TFG troops, whom they believed to be disguised as Al-Shabaab fighters, but were later captured by the militants as they attempted to reach the Kenyan border.
Sergeant Haji, whose leg was severely injured during their capture, was taken back to his base the following day by the TFG soldiers.
In Misikhu, Bungoma County, the family of Corporal Mutoro continues to pray and hope for the best for their son.
A strange call in September last year has given them reason to believe that he is alive and well wherever he is, albeit in stressful circumstances.His wife Sylvia, mother of their 15-month-old baby girl, said that she received a call in September last year from people who said they were holding her husband.
“They accurately described details about our family that they had no other way of knowing apart from being told by him,” she said. They, however, declined her request to talk to him directly.
The militants only instructed her to share the mobile phone number they had used with Corporal Mutoro’s bosses “to facilitate talks”. “I gave the bosses the number but I do not know whether they called them (the militants),” she said.
But the militants keep taunting her for the “failure” by government to secure her husband’s release.
“They told me, ‘if your husband was so special, why hasn’t the government done anything to secure his release?’ I die every time I hear them speak like that,” she said.
Haunting as the calls may be, they have given her a reason to hope. “I believe they call because they are still with Evans. I worry that they will stop.”
The last call she received was on May 12. The Sunday Nation tried to call the number several times, but an automated voice said it had been switched off.
However, Rose, Sergeant Kangogo’s wife, said she has not been called by the militants or received information about the whereabouts of her husband.
When the Sunday Nation visited her at home in Kapteren village, Elgeyo-Marakwet County, Rose expressed disappointment that the State had kept her in the dark about its efforts to secure her husband’s release.
“I follow these events from the media, and I have no other information to offer you. I wish I knew more, if only to know what to tell the children,” she said. Sergeant Kangogo is a father of three.
Early in January this year, the militants staged their deadliest assault inside Kenya since Operation Linda Nchi began last October, when they raided an Administration Police post in Gerille, Wajir County.
In the surprise evening raid, the militants killed six people and kidnapped two government officials, Mr Edward Yesse Mule, the Burderi district officer, and Mr Fredrick Wainaina, a registrar of persons official.
Mr Mule’s father said he has “been literally in every government office,” dealing with security to follow up on the progress made to secure the release of his son.
He said that government officials promised him that they would involve local clan elders to negotiate for the release of his son and his colleagues. But nothing has come out of the effort.
A month after his abduction, the Al-Shabaab released a 16-minute video in which Mr Mule begged the government to heed his captors’ demands and pull KDF forces out of Somalia.
The elder Mule said that he has contacted MPs from Wajir County to help in negotiations for the release of his son, but he thinks they were reluctant to get involved given the negative implications of being associated with the group.
He has since contacted a local non-governmental organisation to help although he would not say if tangible progress is being made.