By Fred Mukinda*
The United States (US) has approved the sale of attack aircraft worth Sh41.8 billion ($418 million) to Kenya.
A statement by the US Department of Defence said it informed Congress of the intended sale last Thursday, just a day before president-elect Donald Trump was sworn in to succeed Barack Obama as president.
The statement justified the military deal, saying Kenya is a regional security leader and strong partner of the US, and cited KDF’s operations in the war against the al-Shabaab terrorist group in Somalia.
“This proposed sale contributes to the foreign policy and national security of the United States by improving the security of a strong regional partner who is a regional security leader undertaking critical operations against al-Shabaab and troop contributor to the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom),” said the statement.
The planes will boost KDF’s aerial strikes on al-Shabaab targets as they will be deployed alongside the F-5 fighter jets used by the Kenya Air Force.
Kenya intends to buy 12 Air Tractor AT-802L planes and two AT-504 trainer aircraft. These types were originally built as an agricultural, unarmed aircraft which have been used around the world fighting forest fires.
The armed versions have been used by United Arab Emirates, Israeli and Yemeni airforces as well as militaries of The Gambia and Burkina Faso. They are used as surveillance and light-attack aircraft and are usually heavily armoured.
Unlike the fighter jets, these strike aircraft cost less and are cheaper to maintain.
“The proposed sale supplements Kenya’s ageing F-5 aircraft as it will be more fiscally efficient and able to be pre-positioned much closer to the conflict area than the F-5 fleet,” the statement said. “KDF is committed to modernising its air fleet and is capable of absorbing these aircraft.
“The proposed sale of this equipment and support does not alter the basic military balance in the region.”
The statement, which was posted on the agency’s official website, says: “It maximises KDF’s Close Air Support (CAS) ability because it is a short-field aircraft capable of using precision munitions and cost-effective logistics and maintenance”.
Unlike fighter jets, they are capable of performing 10-hour missions while carrying 3,629 kilogrammes of munitions – including high-calibre guns, missiles, rocket launchers and bombs.
The prime contractor will be L-3 Communications, Platform Integration Division, of Waco, Texas. The sale will require at least five experts from the contractor to be sent to Kenya to implement the programme.
L-3 Communications is closely linked to CACI International and Titan Corporation.
These are American companies that enjoy big contracts with the Pentagon, the US military headquarters, but whose reputation was questioned after their personnel was found to have engaged in a series of human rights violations against detainees in Abu Ghraib Prison, Iraq, in 2003. The violations included physical and sexual abuse, torture, rape, sodomy and murder
US Army personnel that worked alongside these companies’ employees were court-martialled.
According to whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks, “California-based intelligence and communications firm Titan Corporation (now L-3 Communications) wasinvestigated and charged by the US Securities and Exchange Commission forviolating anti-bribery provisions of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) for funnelling approximately $2 million (Sh200 million) to the re-election of President Mathieu Kerekou of Benin. The bribe was reported to ensure Titan a contract in the country (in March 2005)”.During the US Presidential election campaigns, there were numerous reports of close association of the Trump campaign with private military contractors.
For instance, media reports showed that the founder of the infamous private military company Blackwater Worldwide had been advising the Trump campaign team on matters related to intelligence and defence, including weighing in on candidates for the Defence and State departments.