Officer recalls trials and triumphs in Somalia bush

December 22, 2019 (AO) – When the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) made the incursion into Somalia in pursuit of al-Shabaab terrorists in October 2011, the man who led the troops was Lieutenant Colonel Jeff Nyagah.

He has since been promoted to Brigadier.

That KDF troops had never engaged in a full-fledged war was not lost on the Ministry of Defence mandarins, who had made the decision for the incursion in pursuit of the al-Shabaab.


It was during the rainy season in a treacherous terrain, but this did not dissuade a determined Col Nyagah and the troops he was leading. It is in honour of the day he led the gallant soldiers that the ministry saw it fit to dedicate October 14 as KDF Day.

The troops had stopped at a General Service Unit patrol base in Harhar border point to await final orders. But when they just crossed the border, Col Nyagah lost Corporal Kiptum, the first casualty. It is this man who pushed al-Shabaab from close to the Kenya-Somalia border into the interior, where they remain.

His daring actions buoyed the morale of the soldiers under his command. He has twice been deployed to African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom) due to his bravery.

Born in Loitokitok, Kajiado district, Col Nyagah, the last-born in a family of three children, went to school in the same area and joined KDF in 1991 as a cadet officer and was commissioned the following year in 1992.


He was posted to 1 Kenya Rifles in Nanyuki as a second lieutenant. It is the same unit that he would lead to war 20 years later as a colonel.

Just before a decision was made to enter Somalia, he and other commanders were asked to place all troops on the frontline on red alert. It was just a matter of time before the order to march forward was given.

Unknown to al-Shabaab, their frequent attacks across the border into Kenya had disturbed the country’s leadership and a decision had been made to pursue them into their territory.

The Somalia National Army (SNA) troops in Tabda sent a distress signal to Kenyan security teams for help. These two incidents, plus by the enemy’s kidnapping of a tourist, seemed to firm up the incursion decision.

That day at dawn, the KDF crossed the border, bypassed Dhobley town to link up with SNA troops around Tabda.


Although the terrain and the heavy rains impeded their movement, the determined troops marched on with full combat gear and animal transport.

Shortly after entering Somalia, Col Nyagah’s advance team encountered al-Shabaab two kilometres before Tabda. It took the commander, who remained behind, two hours to find out that the soldiers had overcome al-Shabaab militants. They took over Tabda.

An attempt by a regrouped Shabaab to attack the liberated Tabda cost the insurgents heavy casualties. That initial victory set the ground for the subsequent capture of Hoosingo, Beles Coqane, Afmadhow and Kismayu by the KDF. Col Nyagah has twice served as a commander of Amisom, first in KDF’s Operation Linda Nchi, and later on a second tour of duty.

He is currently the commander of the Marsabit-based 8th Mechanised Battalion.

He remembers watching helplessly as the Z9 attack helicopter that had just taken off from Liboi turned back before crashing and blowing up. This was during the initial days of the KDF incursion.

He says that Corporal Kiptum’s death was his most trying moment.


“Shortly after his death, his phone rang and I could see it was his wife. How could I tell her that the body of her dead husband was in front of me? Losing two platoon commanders, Lieutenant Webi and Lieutenant Okoyo, on the way to liberating Hoosingow was tough. Then came the April 4, 2012 attack by al-Shabaab on the KDF Forward Operating Base in Hoosingow. These incidents will forever remain the most trying times of my stint at the frontline,” Col Nyagah says.

On that fateful day, more than 600 al-Shabaab fighters, with plastic cups tied to their waists, swarmed onto the Hoosingow FOB at about 5am with the intention of overrunning it. The KDF had received intelligence of suspicious movements around the town and were ready.

Troops from other FOBs could not reinforce them because the roads were flooded. But in the day-long battle just when the troops were about to run out of ammunition, Kenya Air Force jet fighters came to their rescue.


“There was uncertainty because of the enemy’s large number, but our soldiers were so determined to win and win they did despite the sustained attacks,” Col Nyagah recalls.

He says that being under enemy fire acts like a “rite of passage” that binds soldiers together, although the inspiration and guidance must come from above and permeate through the ranks.

Back home, Col. Nyagah was the man in charge of the military parade during President Mwai Kibaki’s second-term inauguration and later the swearing-in of President Uhuru Kenyatta at Kasarani in 2013.

Source by Daily Nation