- One landed safely at the refuelling point at Garissa, Kenya
- One pilot reported in though it unclear whether his plan crashed or was forced to land
- Two have disappeared without trace
These helicopters, reported to be Mil MI-24 helicopter gunships, were on their way to southern Somalia to support AMISOM forces in an assault on the al Shabab-held stronghold of Kismayo, a port city near the border with Kenya. This assault has been reported to be happening in the 'next couple of days' and will be a major turning point in the war against the Islamic extremist group, if it succeeds....
Uganda forms a major part of the AMISOM contingent with forces from Kenya, Burundi and Djibouti making up the rest. Will the loss of these helicopters have an impact on the assault of the city? The answer is almost definitely. While exact numbers are sketchy Strategic Intelligence News reports 'Uganda had acquired Mil-24 Hinds most of which were unserviceable but later contracted Russian experts to refurbish them at Soroti Flying School.' With no air assets to replace those lost in Kenya, Uganda and its AMISOM allies may have a problem providing close air support to their troops once they enter Kismayo.
AMISOM has been fighting against al Shabab in Somalia for years and only in recent months has headway been made when troops from Kenya and Ethiopia invaded and Mogadishu was finally taken in its entirety. The Islamist forces are tough, zealous and experienced and have had months to construct their defences in the port city. With no-where left to run it must be supposed that any frontal assault will be met with hard resistance. In contrast AMISOM presents a mixed bag of forces - the soldiers of Uganda, Djibouti and Burundi and experienced in Somalia but lack strong assets such as helicopters; Kenyan forces are inexperienced in any form of fighting but have a greater amount of training and equipment. The success of this alliance in taking Kismayo is by no means a forgone conclusion and could turn into a bloody disaster.
In an urban environment, clearing a guerrilla enemy out house by house and street by street, close air support is vital. While warplanes are effective at tackling large targets, helicopters (especially with the attack and transport capabilities of the MI-24 Hind) are indispensable in taking on small strong points, covering friendly forces and demoralising the enemy.
This accident in Kenya may yet prove to have ramifications beyond the possible loss of life and equipment. The attack on Kismayo, perhaps the hardest single battle of the war, could be in jeopardy and a lot more lives could be lost without the support of those helicopters.