Boots On The Ground As KDF Soldiers Sent To Bandit Zone

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By Tonny Ingutia

Military jets began hovering over parts of the troubled Northern Rift Valley late yesterday afternoon, indicating the arrival of Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) troops.

The soldiers have been assigned to execute what has been described as a painful but decisive operation to rid the region of criminals behind the banditry menace.

And while the decision has been welcomed by many, some residents, particularly in Baringo, were seen fleeing their homes, fearing ‘harassment’ during the joint exercise that will be carried out by KDF and police officers.

A day after President William Ruto ordered the KDF to move in and restore order in the troubled region, Inspector-General of Police Japhet Koome arrived at the Anti-Stock Theft Unit base in Turkana amid tight security.

After attending a security meeting in Kainuk, Mr Koome boarded a Kenya Air Force helicopter and flew to Lokori in Turkana East Sub-county.

According to the IG, the military forces have joined a multi-agency team that has been conducting a major security operation in Kainuk near the border of Turkana and West Pokot, which will now be expanded to all areas declared disturbed and dangerous.

Dialogue calls

Political leaders in the region who had demanded the deployment of the army have acknowledged that it comes at a cost, with some calling for the exercise to be suspended in favor of dialogue.

The KDF has previously launched a major assault on the Sabaot Land Defence Force (SLDF), a ragtag militia that has terrorized Mount Elgon residents since 2005.

The large-scale military assault in March 2008 sparked allegations of serious human rights abuses by the Kenya Army, including murder, torture, rape and arbitrary detention.

The dreaded militia had been accused of killing more than 600 people, besides displacing more than 66,000 and of committing murder, torture, rape, theft and destruction of property.

The claims prompted the government to order a crackdown that involved hundreds of soldiers and five helicopters.

On Monday evening, Interior Cabinet Secretary Kithure Kindiki declared the entire Northern Rift Valley region ‘disturbed’ and ‘dangerous’ and ordered a three-day voluntary arms surrender amnesty, after which the military operation is expected to start.

In Turkana County, security has been intensified in Kainuk, where four police officers were killed by bandits last Friday and seven others injured.

Prof Kindiki was expected to visit and assess the security situation in Turkana East Sub-county, according to County Police Commander Samwel Ndanyi.

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Deserted schools

In Baringo, residents of Arabal, Kasiela and Sinoni were seen fleeing their homes ahead of the joint military and police operation. 

Sinoni Primary School, which was temporarily closed on Monday following an attack, was deserted as parents and children fled towards Mochongoi. 

The school’s head teacher, Mr Moses Kiptegoi, said they closed the school after the pupils stayed away.

The armed bandits are believed to be hiding along River Tandar on the border of Laikipia and Baringo counties, three kilometres from Lamaiwe village.

“We have been hearing some loud noise along the River since yesterday evening,” said an elder.

Last week, armed bandits attacked the village and drove away more than 60 goats. 

Complexities

According to Mr Natembeya, politicians are the main beneficiaries of cattle rustling and banditry.

In an interview with NTV, the Trans Nzoia Governor termed a former top government official as the weak link in the fight against the criminals, noting that the National Intelligence Service had a list of the perpetrators of the menace that has claimed thousands of lives.

Elgeyo-Marakwet Governor Wesley Rotich concurred with Mr Natembeya and welcomed the deployment of KDF soldiers terming it a timely intervention in a complex insecurity situation.

“We applaud President William Ruto for deploying KDF since the bandits were getting bolder by the day as they continued with their killing spree. All along the police lacked support making them complicit and we are optimistic the military will arrest the situation,” Mr Rotich at his Iten office on Tuesday. 

Casualties

Thousands of guns and an infinite supply of ammunition are traded on a daily basis throughout the Kerio Valley region, with more than 100 civilians and 16 police officers killed in the last six months, according to the Interior CS.

“What is happening is that armed criminals have never abided by directives by the government to surrender the illegal firearms and allow dialogue on lasting peace, but instead some of them are acquiring more sophisticated weapons. “It’s no longer about cattle raids or banditry, but the criminals have changed tactics and are now targeting businesses and looting property,” said Richard Chetotum, a Kapedo resident.

According to CS Kindiki, a new anti-banditry force known as the Land and Air Team (LAT) has been formed and targets to drive out bandits from their hideouts in gorges and valleys in Baringo, West Pokot, Elgeyo Marakwet, and Laikipia counties. The CS pitched camp in Marigat for three days last week, meeting senior security officials from the region to strategize on how to contain the banditry attacks.

The Kerio Valley region is occupied by members of the Pokot, Turkana, Marakwet, Tugen, Illchamus, and Samburu communities who are entangled in protracted armed and cattle-raiding conflicts.

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