This piece was published on www.urbanradio.co.ke and can be viewed here: http://bit.ly/1DnnBzl
In September 11th, 2001, Al-Qaeda affiliated terrorists flew two Boeing 767 jets full of passengers into the North Tower and after 17 minutes, into the South Tower of the World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan, New York city. A shell-shocked world watched as the Twin Towers housing office blocks on it’s expansive 13,400,000 square feet burnt down and collapsed killing at least 2,753 people.
On the same day, American Airlines Flight 77 crushed into the Pentagon setting it ablaze. In Shanksville, Pennsylvania, United Flight 93 crushed in a field after the heroic passengers on board sacrificed their lives and fought to retake the plane from the terrorists who had planned to crush it in Washington DC. The world went silent. America was under attack by the worst of humanity.
As a young boy in my Senior Four, I remember watching the disturbing pictures live on TV after normal programming was interrupted. I wondered how human beings could plot and coldly execute such a senseless, atrocious mission. At the time, I new little about ‘terrorism’.
In this article, I intend to reflect on the steps that the United States took to ensure that such a catastrophic attack never happened again on U.S soil despite the heightened terror plots it faced because of a lapse in defense systems in light of the Garissa University attack. Most of these reforms are things we can do here in Africa.
But first, let us examine the timeline and what we know about the bloody Garissa attack which compelled me to pen this piece in the first place.
On Thursday morning at 7am, I got information that at about 05:30am, gunmen believed to be terrorists had attacked Garissa University College, a Constituent College of Moi University.
My memory raced back to the September 21st, 2013 Westgate shopping mall attack in Westlands, Nairobi where 67 people lost their lives when Al-Shabaab affiliated terrorists stormed the mall. I recollected the serious flaws in that operation as widely reported in the local dailies, which even involved causalities amongst Kenyan forces, attributed to friendly fire. How worse can an operation get in terms of coordination?
Knowing that Al-Shabaab does not negotiate after a hostage situation in such circumstances, I feared the worst for the University students unless the security forces moved in very swiftly. I dreaded they might set up a video coverage of the senseless slaughter with an intention of making it go viral on the internet to spread their disgustful and horrific propaganda.
This trepidation made it completely incomprehensible for me to fathom how the General Service Unit Recce Squad which is specialised in Close Quarter Battle (CQB) was not in position as late as 2pm to engage terrorists at Garissa College despite the squad receiving an alarm as early as 6am.
I am alive to their heroics in ending the Westgate mall siege which results prompted President Uhuru Kenyatta to fix a luncheon with these gallant officers. A bull was slaughtered for the feast.
It is hence clear that prior to the Garissa attack, the President of Kenya personally knew of the importance of this squad in any hostage situations in the country.
After the bloody Westgate mall attack, the President issued a Presidential Order directing that the Inspector General of Police shall have access to equipment including helicopters under the dockets of several government departments.
This fact makes it more difficult to grasp why a few of the Recce squad officers boarded a Kenya Police Airwing seven hours after the alarm went off. Daily Nation reported that the flight of 18 officers took off from Wilson Airport at about 12:30pm; hours after several government dignitaries had been flown to Garissa in an apparent insensitive PR stunt. I am baffled by this response.
The rest of the elite Recce squad supposed to neutralize the attackers travelled by road to Garissa in a 5-hour journey from their Nairobi base.
The Inspector General of Police Wilson Boinnet however insists that all elite response units travelled by air.
Even if the words of the police boss were true, why were these officers still in Nairobi at midday?
A few minutes to 2pm, reports indicated that a sizable number of the elite Recce squad arrived in Garissa. However, they could not engage since they had to await the arrival of members of the same tactical team who were still travelling by road.
The elite Recce squad was cleared to engage the terrorists as late as 5pm. That is 11 hours from the time they received the alarm. To underline the effectiveness of these officers, the fierce assault lasted just around 12 minutes and no more than 30 minutes.
4 of the terrorists in the building were shot dead before they had a chance to detonate the suicide vests they had on them.
Daily Nation quotes other sources that revealed that the 5th terrorist reportedly succeeded to detonate his explosives after being cornered.
During the seven hours while the elite squad was travelling to Garissa, survivors of the attack recounted how the gunmen freely searched under the beds and cupboards to locate and shoot or behead students who were hiding in the hope that security teams will find them first.
Some of them witnessed the gunmen taunt and toy with students for hours before executing them in cold blood. These memories will live with them forever.
The government rhetoric
The rhetoric of senior government officers such as the Deputy President William Ruto and the Interior Cabinet Secretary Joseph Nkaissery in relation to the coordination and response by security services is shocking.
They have all gone before local and international media vehemently arguing that the response by the security services was adequate.
The Interior Ministry spokesman Mwenda Njoka is quoted by the Daily Nation as noting, “There were many moving parts and the nine hours it took was reasonable,” Reasonable, really?
The Defence Minister Rachel Omamo notes, “We commend our security agencies for responding ‘promptly’”.
In response to this rhetoric, the Standard newspaper notes, “It is morally irresponsible for the government’s PR machine to go into overdrive after what everyone acknowledges was a lamentable response”
Lessons from United States response after 9/11
After the horrific 9/11 attack, Senators Joseph Lieberman and McCain expeditiously drafted legislation to provide a legal basis for the 9/11 Commission.
The sole purpose of this commission was to investigate to the highest level possible why the United State’s defense systems or mechanisms failed paving way for the 9/11 attack.
The Commission interviewed 1,200 people in 12 countries, reviewed 2.5 million pages of documents, and 160 witnesses testified in the 19 days of public hearings across the United States of America.
The 9/11 Commission revealed several flaws which the terrorists exploited to successfully carry out the attacks.
Armed with the recommendations of the Commission, Senator Joseph Lieberman and Collins authored another legislation to guide the implementation of the 9/11 Commission to protect the American people. Governor Tom Kean and Congressman Lee Hamilton led the lobbying efforts for a series of legal reforms.
Amongst a plethora of very important security steps, the recommendations of the Commission led to a series of bipartisan legislative measures to organize and coordinate the federal government response to terror threats.
As a result, the Department of Homeland Security was created in 2002 by the enactment of The Homeland Security Act. The purpose of this department is to bring together over 20 agencies and bureaus involved in prevention and response in crisis situations such as terror attacks.
In 2004, Congress passed The Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention and Act. This Act created the office of the Director of National Intelligence charged with the responsibility of coordinating 16 separate federal intelligence agencies.
The Act further provided for an overhaul of intelligence handling by establishing the National Counterterrorism Center. All counterterrorism intelligence was to be shared and analyzed at this Center rather than at the various agencies which had occasioned a lack of coordination.
In March 30th, 2011, ten years after the 9/11 attack; Senator Joseph Lieberman prepared a statement as the Chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs during which he announced a further review of the effectiveness of steps taken thus far with an intention of identifying any loopholes.
I may not be seated in the right chair to be providing the way forward but the grim turn of events leaves me no choice considering that we are all potential targets.
In the face of increasing terror threats in Africa (notably by Al-Shabaab in East & Horn of Africa and Boko Haram in West Africa), governments need to move fast and connect the dots on how security agencies detect and gather intelligence and how it is shared and analyzed to effectively prevent and disrupt terror attacks.
We must prepare to thwart, respond to and recover from terror attacks by developing capabilities of state, local governments and the private sector. Inter-agency coordination that dwarfs any bureaucratic concerns is of paramount importance.
In most of the recent terror attacks including the one at Garissa University, Intel existed about the looming attack on Universities in Kenya but it was never averted or at the very least, adeptly disrupted.
After such attacks, it is of utmost importance that leaders desist from playing politics over such a horrific tragedy.
Why rush to assure the world and people who have lost loved ones that a response was “reasonable” or “prompt” even without conducting a thorough security audit or a public commission of inquiry to ascertain the facts?
Can these leaders look into the eyes of grief-stricken parents and tell them such statements despite of the glaring loopholes being discussed allover the place?
How many schematics of major installations and buildings do our counterterrorism units in the respective countries have in their possession? Some of this critical information is important to develop a response plan to brief an assault team but may not be readily available for swift response by security forces. Apparently, the terrorists know our buildings better because they actually survey before attack.
How effective are we dealing with the problem of radicalization? What is the key driving motive for youth joining Al Shabaab? Is it only religion? Could we be dealing with political motives too? How much has the government encouraged inclusivity? What about offering financial support to Muslim rights groups which run counter-radicalization programmes?
Have our security teams developed effective ways of identifying sleeper cells? Why can’t the state regulate religious institutions in as far as some religious teachings are concerned? We can engage the Muslims to develop an acceptable curriculum for madrassas to avoid extremist teachings.
After the Garissa attack, I watched news clips on BBC News, Aljazeera, Citizen TV, and NTV Kenya of inconsolable and traumatized parents and relatives of deceased or missing children being led into the Chiromo Mortuary to physically identify their relatives. This is an act of utmost insensitivity.
They were asked to search for their loved ones amongst a pile of bodies with many having numerous cuts and bullet wounds to the head and other parts of the body that they were completely disfigured. I watched several relatives collapse on getting out of the mortuary. I do not understand this. There simply had to be better ways of identifying these bodies without this ghastly exercise.
Rather than demanding for the closure of the Dabaab refugee camp, Kenya must review the effects of the 30 years of emergency rule during the Shifta wars in the region. The effects of the Wagalla massacre in Wajir back in 1984 also deserve more attention in addition to the acknowledgments included in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and the challenges paused by corruption.
On the question of Somalia, a premature exit now may not be a viable option since it amounts to an act of caving in to the terrorists’ demands. However, the states involved need to develop a clear exit strategy from Somalia. These forces cannot possibly stay and police Somalia forever. The lessons of the US-led war in Iraq and Afghanistan are instructive.
The government in Somalia needs to be strengthened and it’s forces trained and equipped to take care of the security of it’s country.
However, of utmost importance is that in any intervention that we seek to use, we must use the rights-guide approach as a pillar, respect humanitarian law and rule of law. Terrorism is a war against vile ideology, not only bombs and bullets.
As we call on citizens to remain vigilant and volunteer information, the leaders must demonstrate a clear strategy for victory.
The cowards try to shake our will to achieve their evil objectives. But our will is strong. Let us never cave into their traps but move fast to take the war to them by denying them spaces to spread terror and abuse of civil liberties.
Our universal desire to foster observance of human rights and promotion of liberty in a free society is critical in this fight.
I honour and respect our gallant men and women in uniform who are on the frontline of this fight for human freedom. Our leaders must step up to the plate. I know we have foiled numerous attacks but we can do better than this. If we step up our act, they will fail.
Fare thee well the fallen heroes at Garissa University. As a fellow human being, I am ashamed we let you down.