Spokesperson Emmanuel Chirchir is tweeting updates on Kenya’s military push into Somalia to fight the al-Shabaab militants.
On Thursday, he warned unidentified planes to stay out of the region for fear they are transporting weapons to al-Shabaab. Chirchir said in an interview that Kenya would shoot down any planes that officials suspect are full of weapons.
But his commentary also carries the kind of military warnings not usually issued by the Pentagon or Nato: Southern Somalia is getting heavy rains that vehicles can’t move through. Accordingly the price of animal transport has shot up.
“Kenyans dealing in donkey trade along the Kenya-Somali border are advised not to sell their animals to al-Shabaab,” Chirchir tweeted, adding: “Selling Donkeys to al-Shabaab will undermine our efforts in Somalia”.
“In addition we are also reliably informed that the cost of donkeys has risen from $150 to $200 for a donkey. Thus, any large concentration and movement of loaded donkeys will be considered as al-Shabaab activity,” Chirchir said.
Chirchir said that Twitter is an easy way to quickly and easily communicate the military’s message, and that many Somalis are online. Earlier this week, Chirchir tweeted a list of 10 Somali towns it warned would soon be attacked, prompting residents to flee after Somali media picked up the story.
“When you do something on Twitter it goes onto the internet and people who see it can even call those who can’t see it,” he said. “We’re getting good feedback that Somalis are moving away from al-Shabaab camps. It is heard in Mogadishu, Kismayo and Baidoa.”
Chirchir says that the Kenyan military has informants who say three flights carrying weapons for al-Shabaab have landed in Baidoa, Somalia in the past week. Residents and a Somali legislator say that al-Shabaab fighters had blocked off the access to the airport in the central Somali town of Baidoa.
“All aircrafts are hereby warned not to land in Baidoa. Anyone violating this will be doing so at their peril,” Chirchir tweeted.
Unexplained flights would be challenged by radio and asked to detail their flight path and cargo, Chirchir said by phone. He said if the Kenyan military was not satisfied with the explanation and the plane landed in areas held by the al-Shabaab militia, the plane risked being shot down or destroyed.
“Before any engagement, in the air, if it is flying, we will ask them what they are doing,” he said. “If it cannot explain what they are doing, it will be destroyed on the landing strip.”
He said planes also risked being shot down mid-air.
Kenya has Northrop F-5 jets but parliamentarians have raised questions about how flight-worthy they are.
In other developments, Chirchir said the Kenyan navy had sunk a boat with 18 al-Shabab fighters onboard south of the Somali port city of Kismayo late on Wednesday. The information could not be independently verified.
Chirchir said all 18 died, and he said on Twitter that a video of the skirmish would soon be uploaded to YouTube.
Kenya sent troops into Somalia last month after a string of kidnappings on Kenyan soil that the Kenyans blamed on Somali militants.
Kenya hosts more than 600 000 Somali refugees displaced by the Somalia’s 20-year-old civil war. It been discussing creating a stable buffer zone inside Somalia for the past two years, and has recruited, armed and financed a Somali militia that is currently fighting alongside Kenyan forces.- AP