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Revealed: CIA, MI6 behind 16-year counter-terrorism efforts against al-Shabaab in Kenya

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An investigation by Declassified UK, the Daily Maverick in South Africa seen by 254news.co.ke reveals ways which A covert Kenyan paramilitary team has been paid and assisted by the Central Intelligence Agency -CIA to eliminate terror suspects for almost two decades since 2004. The team armed and trained by the US CIA and supported by UK intelligence -MI6 is behind renditions and controversial killings of terror suspects according to investigative report.

The investigative report further reveals that British’s MI6 plays a key role in identifying suspects for a ‘kill or capture’ list and finding and fixing their locations while The paramilitaries use covert tactics such as fake number plates and disguise themselves as aid workers on operations in refugee camps, which ‘shield perpetrators of abuses from any shred of accountability’.

The commandos who have been raiding the homes of suspected terrorists belong to the Rapid Response Team (RRT), a clandestine ‘special team’ of the Kenyan paramilitary General Service Unit’s Recce Company. The RRT was set up, equipped, trained and is guided on tactical counterterrorism operations by America’s CIA, a Declassified UK investigation can reveal.

informally known as the Rendition Operations Team the Kenyan team is comprised of about 60 police commandos under CIA’s covert programme, which began in 2004 and has been managed by a paramilitary liaison officer at the US embassy in Nairobi. Police spokesman Charles Owino has however dismissed the report saying, “It is malicious and serving certain interests.”

“I am not aware of such a team, a Rendition Operations Team. We have an Anti-Terrorism Unit and the National Counter Terrorism Centre which is multi-agency. These are open agencies” Owino said

This investigation is based on interviews with more than two dozen CIA, US State Department and Kenyan intelligence, paramilitary and police officers. In 16 years of operation, the CIA-backed team has been responsible for the capture of high-value terror suspects, as well as rendition operations, killings and alleged summary executions, the interviews reveal.

The creation of the RRT was “an indigenous solution to an indigenous problem”, a former senior CIA counter-terrorism official told this investigation as the paramilitary team’s raids often are driven by intelligence provided by the CIA itself and Kenya’s National Intelligence Service (NIS).

Nairobi’s Westgate shopping mall in 2013, where it killed 67 people, and at Garissa University College in 2015 when it killed 148 people are among al-Shabaab’s high-profile atrocities in Kenya. In 2019, al Shabab killed 21 people in an attack on the luxury DusitD2 complex on Riverside Driver in Nairobi. The terror group and its sympathizers are also behind a number of high-profile abductions and attempts to kill foreign dignitaries, including a plot to bomb then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during a visit to Kenya in 2009.

The RRT receives weapons and equipment from the CIA. Initially supplied with M16 assault rifles, then M4 carbines, they have also received Glock pistols, M79 grenade launchers, body armor, helmets and M67 and Stinger CS grenades. The RRT’s operations appear to need sign-off from the US. Multiple RRT sources independently confirmed that the team is not to be deployed by its Kenyan command for tactical anti-terror operations without the knowledge and consent of its US embassy handlers.

Since 2004, the CIA has paid for RRT commandos to fly to the US for SWAT-style training in rendition and disruption operations, including reconnaissance and surveillance, storming a building, close-quarters battle and weapons handling at locations that include the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. The US role goes further. The CIA paramilitary liaison, based at the US Embassy in Nairobi, is directly involved in planning some of the RRT’s operations.

CIA operatives have a times participated in operations, US officials and Kenyan RRT officers confirmed. “If they really, really want the results, they will even assist directly,” one mid-ranking Kenyan paramilitary officer said. CIA paramilitary officers and contractors have also assisted the RRT by conducting surveillance and tracking of a target, either remotely or from a nearby safehouse or vehicle. However, even as they observe operations unfolding, they maintain a careful distance, RRT officers said.

the CIA identifies suspects and prepares target packages – intelligence and analysis on a given suspect – that include actionable intelligence and they decide with Kenyan intelligence agencies given target’s fate in a so-called ‘disposition matrix’ that includes options ranging from arrest to using lethal force, the former senior US official based in Africa said.

In formulating the target packages, CIA officers in Nairobi also work closely with their counterparts at MI6, Britain’s foreign intelligence service. MI6 relies on its long-standing human intelligence network to provide actionable intelligence by finding and tracking targets and infiltrating militants’ circles. MI6 boasts a specialization in human intelligence, tracking and infiltration operations. Such capabilities are often relied on by the CIA in Kenya and other covert counter-terrorism operations, such as those in Yemen, two former senior US officials confirmed.

Unlike the CIA, actionable intelligence from MI6 does not reach the RRT paramilitaries directly, but through its CIA and NIS counterparts. MI6 also collaborates with a dedicated team of Kenyan intelligence officers, as part of a liaison cell within NIS’ Counterterrorism Unit, codenamed ARCTIC, multiple Kenyan and US intelligence officials confirmed. Sometimes, the NIS ARCTIC cell works directly with RRT operatives in finding targets and fixing their location before sending in the RRT.

Declassified UK is an investigative journalism organization that covers the UK’s role in the world.


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