Security forces bomb bandits hideout in Baringo

An armored personnel carrier patrols Marigat-Mochongoi road in Baringo County on February 16, 2023

An armoured personnel carrier patrols Marigat-Mochongoi road in Baringo County on February 16, 2023. More Kenya Defence Forces troops have been spotted arriving in Baringo as an operation to flush out bandits begins in the North Rift region.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

The CS for Interior, Prof Kithure Kindiki had given a 24-hour order for residents to vacate hotspots.

Multi-agency team involved in flushing out bandits in the troubled North.

Military helicopters and Anti-Stock Theft Unit (ASTU) officers Thursday morning bombed Tandare valley in Baringo County, one of the hideouts for bandits targeted in the second phase of the security operation in the troubled Kenyan North.

Locals close to the area claim that they heard more than 10 explosions, which started at 6am. They also spotted the military helicopters.

Security troops are set to launch a combined land and air operation to comb caves, gorges, and ravines in insecurity-prone areas in the Kenyan North, following the expiry of a 24-hour vacate order issued by Interior Cabinet Secretary Kithure Kindiki on Sunday. 

The troops on the ground who will tackle the bandits stealing livestock and killing residents include the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF), National Police Reservists (NPR), Rapid Deployment Unit (RDU), ASTU, and the General Service Unit (GSU).

In terms of heavy equipment, the state has deployed a nearly complete arsenal ranging from armoured personnel carriers (APCs) and guns, including the automated AK-47, G3 rifles, and general-purpose machine guns.

Reliable sources told Nation.Africa that security troops are banking on aerial support and the armoured personnel carriers to smoke out bandits from their hideouts. 

The APC is always superior in any security operation, due to its all-terrain capability with automatic 360-rotation shooting. The military on land is using it to suppress gunfire from the bandits as the officers zero in on caves in the bandit territories. 

The targeted hills and caves, which are believed to be bandit territory, are in sharp, mountainous, and rocky terrain. 

Mortar launchers have been arriving in targeted areas since Monday, with the government unleashing military-grade firepower as the operation to flush out bandits entered a critical phase in 27 hotspot areas declared by the Interior CS as crime scenes.

"It is a more serious operation now. You can see the seriousness from the arsenal they are bringing in. Let us hope for the best," said a senior administrator, privy to the security operation. 

In the latest move to neutralise marauding bandits who are terrorising the troubled six counties of Baringo, Samburu, Laikipia, Turkana, West Pokot, and Elgeyo Marakwet, the government has deployed heavier artillery, including vehicle-drawn artillery launchers, and additional KDF soldiers. 

Since Monday, more KDF artillery have been ferried to bandit-infested zones in the six counties. The government has, in the second phase of the security operation, also deployed more KDF soldiers to more than 30 areas declared as crime scenes in the target regions.

Vehicle-driven artillery launchers were spotted in both Baringo and Samburu on Monday and Tuesday, and a military chopper was spotted over the bandit-infested hills of Korkoron, Tandar, and Ramacha in Baringo county, sparking tension among locals, with signs of a possible bombardment.

In Samburu County, witnesses in Longewan, Pura, and Ltungai told Nation that military choppers and surveillance drone cameras were hovering overhead while conducting aerial surveillance in areas believed to be bandits' hideouts, even as more people continued to move out of their homes. 

A multi-agency team is set to comb through the Malaso escarpments, Pura and Kur Kur valleys, Ltungai and Amaiya caves in Samburu, all believed to be bandit territories.

For instance, Malaso escarpments and Pura feels like a proper war zone, complete with an array of visible weaponry in the hands of tough-looking soldiers.

Dangerously armed criminals are believed to be holed up in difficult-terrain, remote, and inaccessible areas at the bottom of gorges, escarpments, caves, ravines, hills, and forests.

In Baringo County, a convoy of more than 10 KDF vehicles was Monday headed towards Arabal, believed to be harbouring battle-hardened bandits who have reigned terror in parts of the six counties already classified as dangerous and disturbed. 

The bolstering of the security forces to commence the operation happened even as some locals in targeted areas vowed not to flee from their homes as ordered by the Interior CS.

In Arabal, locals said they have already been displaced by bandits and have nowhere else to go. 

Rose Chebon, a resident said she lives within the Chemoriongion trading centre after fleeing her home in Arabal after it was attacked by bandits. 

The NPS on Monday announced Deputy Inspector General of Police Noor Gabow as the new Commander of the ongoing security operation in six of the bandit-prone counties of the North Rift. 

The NPS made the announcement, even as a more sophisticated approach was under way to crush hardcore criminals who are still wreaking havoc in the region. 

"The new commander of Operation Maliza Uhalifu North Rift is Mr Noor Gabow, who is also the Deputy Inspector General - Administration Police Service," the NPS said in a statement on Monday.  

"Mr Gabow met with the commander of the Kenya Army, Lieutenant General Peter Mbogo Njiru, at Chemolingot Multi-Agency Command Centre on March 11, 2023, as part of their strategic security engagement," the statement read in part. 

On Sunday, the CS declared as scenes of crime the Korkoron Hills, Tandare Valley, and Silale Gorges in Baringo County, Mugokodo Forest; Kamwenje, Warero, and Ndonyoriwo; Lekuruki Hills, Losos, and Kiape Caves and Sieku Valley in Laikipia County.

Others were Ltungai Conservancy, Longewan, Nasuur, Lochokia, and Lekadaar Escarpments; Lolmolok Caves, Pura Valley, Malaso Escarpment, and Suguta Valley in Samburu County in, Malaso, Samburu County.

In Turkana County, Prof Kindiki had named Kapelbok, Nakwamoru, Lebokat, Ombollion, Nadome, and Kamur caves; the Turkwell Escarpment at the interface of West Pokot and Turkana Counties. 

The CS said whoever will be found in the areas would be treated as a criminal or their accomplice.

On Monday evening, however, the CS reviewed the areas targeted for operation, and where residents had earlier been ordered to vacate by Monday 8:30am. 

Excluded from the operation now are Kapelbok, Nakwamoru, Lobokat, Lokoron, the Turkwell escarpment, and Ombollion areas within Turkana and West Pokot. 

The CS instead listed Ng’elecha Hills and Gorges, Ramacha and Losokoni Caves, Laramoru Gorges, Karau Hills, Noosidan escarpment, Rugus Caves, and the Amaya Gorges at the interface of Baringo, Laikipia and Samburu counties as areas where residents should vacate within 24 hours, by Tuesday evening to be specific.

At the same time, the government has declared a total war on spiritual leaders, locally referred to as laibons, for administering oaths and commanding banditry in the entire North Rift region. 

Prof Kindiki, while announcing the commencement of the second phase of the security operation, said he was aware of spiritual leaders and sorcerers commanding bandits in the target region, and one was already in police custody.

They are believed to be providing prophetic support to bandits during their operations.

"We have identified the spiritual leaders who are giving blessings to raiders and murderers before they go to commit the crimes," Mr Kindiki said. 

The CS said the spiritual leader was arrested in a sting operation, and will be arraigned in court "any time from today to face charges”. 

Mr Kindiki said the government is aware of those behind banditry as well as their leaders, spiritual leaders, political patrons, and commercial beneficiaries. 

"We know who they are and we know how they are operating. We have conclusively established the key suspects who are commanding these terror gangs," the CS said. 

"This is not an empty statement. We have their names, we have profiles and we are going for them," he added. 

He also announced that the government will offer monetary rewards to the public who provide significant information that will help arrest commanders of banditry.

He revealed that the government is also set to make public the names and photographs of suspected commanders of banditry.  

The CS also revealed that authorities have sufficient and reliable intelligence on individuals who are funding and perpetrating banditry across the affected counties.

He ordered residents of bandit-infested zones to leave immediately, as the government puts in place measures to flush out bandits using the areas as hideouts.

Prof Kindiki said the Kenya Kwanza administration will use all resources at its disposal to restore normality in the Kenyan North. 
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