OF PAIN, ENDURANCE AND PRIDE

KDF-in-somalia

They march in formation, small groups of soldiers that reek of pungent sweat. The kind of smell you get after baking in the African sun. Large backpacks leach on every soldiers back, seeming to suck the life out of their bodies. They are very tired, yet their legs seem to be moving in their own volition. Working to their orders and defying the brain. They want to stop but their legs just keep moving. The endless hours of training seem to be paying off. Once in a while you see a soldier stretching his finger, after hours with the finger on the trigger, the whole hand is now clamping. They have not had a good night sleep for days; every man seems to be running on fumes and at the tipping edge of physical endurance. At this stage, every step is well calculated, in a way that the moving over rocks and sand uses the smallest of the energy reserves.

They comb through the bushes with tanks leading the charge, ploughing through the bushes and trees. They had been walking for the last four hours. They were 50 kilometers off the coast of Obbia and 20 kilometers from the drop off point. Obbia was a small coastal town to the east of Somalia, a town that for years was of strategic importance to Al-shabaab, now under Kenya defense forces control. After previous attacks on KDF convoys they resulted to walking from drop off points, making it hard for Al-shabaab to pick them off.

The staging area was Darbaro, a small town that looked more of a village, mad walled houses peer through the bushes. The town has no electricity or running water or a working sewerage system, this was the state of affairs in Somalia after decades of no running government. The town seems to be deserted; towns’ people seem to have been alerted of the imminent attack and had taken off. Signs of earlier life are evident, a ball in the field, a smoking pot of what was to be lunch, a car which was abandoned after the old car gave in to fear, a school whose roof would be caving in on the children.

At this point, every soldier is nervous and the haunting thoughts of family, wife, daughter, good food, ugali, nyama choma and even death are in every soldiers mind, some say a quick prayer. This fear is however superseded by courage and the threat of imminent death or a dead comrade does little to a man on a mission.

Tanks lead in the offense, taking out key enemy positions. War however cannot be fought only in cocoons of armor; it is also fought by soldiers that are willing to get their hands dirty on the ground. Soldiers willing to take out enemies crouching over walls and bunkers; enemies that have machine guns and rockets. Above the ground the Kenya air force helicopters beat the air into submission as they peck on the enemy like a hawk pecking on a snake.

The charge of soldiers fear the way into victory, sweeping over the town and shooting the enemy to surrender. What was a clear sky is now transformed into darkness, a cloud of dust and smoke rises to the sky and creates a shadow of death.  It is perhaps a proclamation of victory, of having superior weapons and a people with dreams that stretch beyond its borders.

As fast as the explosions had started, they stop. It is seems like victory was only too easy. Thirty two Al- shabaab militias lay dead as some gasp for their last. A bearded man lies under a sand barrier, gasping for breath and frothing blood from his mouth, another lies dead with half his face blown off, poor bastard didn’t see it coming, his hand is still clenching an invisible gun shot off his hands. Body parts litter the street. A finger there a face there, a leg here, it is going to be a feast for the wild pigs. Be as it may be, it is victory for Kenya.

However, like any victory, it always comes at a price. Four Kenyan soldiers lay injured, medics scrum over the men. Three of the men are lucky to sustain light tissue damage; one however has both his legs blown off, just above the knee. He has lost a lot of blood and is slowly slipping into the next life and the young medic crouching over him seems to know this. He shoots morphine into the collapsing veins, perhaps a little more than the recommended dosage, ‘anything to ease the pain and give him a smooth transition’. He looks to the sky; his eyes have the look of eternity, a contrast of the darkness that was slowly overpowering the light. He looks as if searching for something; perhaps something to hold onto as the light is slowly sucked from his eyes. He seems so pored on this that the grains of sand resting on his right eye don’t seem to bother him; he doesn’t bother blinking them away. You wonder what he could be thinking about. His mind is perhaps racing through memories, perhaps feeling sad at not having to see his family, his two year old daughter. His wife, possibly a teacher at a local school in Kisumu. Teaching on, with passion, hope and a dream of a better Kenya, incognizant of the imminent dark storm of grief.

The man however accepts death with a certain lordliness of a god, sneering at death, the nerve of this man. To him at this moment, death seems to be his subject and he the master, for he had accepted death and death had no more leverage.

In his face you see the pride of a man that had accomplished his dreams, this was his mission in life, he had lived a fulfilling life, he had lived for something and he was a self-actualized man. He was proud of dying for a country that he loved, a country of beautiful people and diverse culture. A country which beyond the tribalism, corruption and despair was worth dying for. He had made a solemn pledge to be a knight for his country. A man dubbed into knighthood by the love for his people. He was a man that had realized that every man is equal, that systems that teach men to torture each other and the misery that had befallen mankind was but a passing phase. That the hate of men dies, big and small, and that so long as men die, liberty shall never perish. So in a unique way he was restoring liberty, for mankind is born of hate he, being no exception.

He had in a way helped in stopping a planned attack on another church, school or mall. In a way, he had given the children the hope of a better future.

The men make their exfiltration to the extraction point. Behind the tired dusty faces you see into the souls of men that have seen the true horrors of war, men that know that war is adored by men who have not been to war. That there is nothing to be proud about killing another man. This men know that after days of being alert around the clock, facing the risk of death and seeing another man die, that a man is never the same again. They knew that war is not for the weak hearted but for those willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for the rest of us sleeping in our comfortable warm beds.

-Antony Mwangi

 

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