What you need to know:
- The ongoing operation involves the Kenya Defense Forces (KDF), National Police Reservists (NPR), RDU, ASTU and the General Service Unit (GSU).
- KDF soldiers were deployed to areas declared by Interior Cabinet Secretary as disturbed and dangerous last month
- Defence counterpart Adan Duale gazetted the troops’ deployment to support the police-led operation
- There is a feeling that unless KDF are allowed to command the ongoing operation in the North Rift, it won't yield much
Fears of a possible disconnect between the military and joint police forces assigned to tackle bandits terrorising residents in the North Rift have emerged, following sustained attacks by the criminals across the targeted counties.
More than a month after the ‘Operation Maliza Uhalifu North Rift’ was declared, bandits continue to attack villages in Baringo, Samburu, Turkana, Elgeyo Marakwet, Laikipia and West Pokot, killing, maiming and driving away hundreds of livestock.
The sustained attacks have now raised claims of a disconnect and lack of cooperation within the forces assigned to clean up the region of illegal fire arms and criminal elements, with indications that there could be a breakdown in the command structure.
There are claims that joint forces deployed to carry out security operations have carried out uncoordinated aerial attacks on some of the target areas believed to be harbouring bandits because they were misdirected in suspected diversionary attacks.
Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) soldiers were deployed to areas declared by Interior Cabinet Secretary as disturbed and dangerous last month, with his Defence counterpart Adan Duale gazetting the troops’ deployment to support the police as the operation entered the second phase earlier last month.
A contingent of troops would immediately thereafter be seen arriving in the mapped hotspot areas, as anxious locals waited with bated breath for the criminals to be weeded from their midst.
“The truth of the matter is that there is a problem within the chain of command between the police and the military,” claimed Baringo North MP Joseph Makilap, whose constituents last week confronted Deputy Inspector of Police Noor Gabow, who was deployed to Chemolingot, Tiaty, as the commander of Operation Maliza Uhalifu North Rift.
“The KDF is camping in Chemolingot complaining that they cannot be commanded by the police. The police on the other hand are protesting that the military are not doing enough in helping them to smoke out the bandits. So there is tension between the two forces and it seems they are not in unity,” claimed the MP who last week led the demonstrations in Loruk to protest the continued attacks by bandits.
For the operation to yield fruits, the MP appealed to President William Ruto to streamline the alleged disconnect and ensure a clear chain of command.
Reached for comment, however, a senior military officer who talked to Nation on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter said he was not aware of the alleged insubordination and in-fighting between the two forces.
“You all know that the ongoing security operation in the North Rift is internal and that is why it is being led by the police, and specifically the Deputy Inspector General of police. We (the KDF) have just come to supplement,” said the senior officer.
What is happening in the operation, said Mochongoi MCA Kipruto Kimosop, is a classic case of sabotage.
“Our attention has been drawn to the laxity of the officers in responding whenever attacks happen and a lack of proper coordination between the military and the police in what appears to be confusion or supremacy battles. This has unfortunately slowed down the response of officers who were previously active like Chemoe and Lamaiywe Rapid Deployment Unit (RDU) and Anti Stock Theft Unit (ASTU),” said Mr Kimosop.
Nation established that the operation involves the KDF, National Police Reservists (NPR), RDU, ASTU and the General Service Unit (GSU).
In terms of heavy artillery, the State deployed a nearly complete arsenal ranging from armoured personnel carriers (APCs) and a cache of guns including the AK-47, G3 rifles and general purpose machine guns.
In Turkana, residents have now called on the government to change tack in the ongoing security operation by National Police Service (NPS) and KDF to successfully and completely weed out bandits in the troubled regions of the North Rift.
Residents are concerned that despite the heavy deployment of police officers and soldiers that are well-equipped with sophisticated weapons, aircraft, and APCs, bandits continue to kill innocent citizens, steal livestock, attack road users, burn schools and even kill and injure security personnel.
Mr Abraham Lokuwam, an elder from Loima who is the newly elected Turkana Council of Elders chairman said that the change of tack should include proper coordination between police officers and the soldiers as well as the inclusion of elders in the operation to share intelligence and kick start long-lasting programmes geared towards sustainable peace and security.
"The bandits are highly mobile and once they attack innocent residents they flee back to known hideouts,” he said.
“As a stopgap measure, every community should first be forced into their territory to guarantee an organised security operation," he explained.
In an interview with Nation, Colonel (Rtd) Moses Kwonyike said: “The military has their own ways of doing things and cannot be commanded by another force.
"For this operation targeting six counties in the North Rift to be successful, the government should fast-track Parliament for approval to have KDF lead the operation and trust me, things will change,” said the ex-soldier who also served as a military advisor, head of United Nations (UN) African Mission in Darfur.
“Every security agency has its operational doctrines. The military is mandated to carry out external operations and will only come in at the hour of need, let’s say an emergency. But now in this case, Parliament has not outlined its role for the army to take charge by smoking out the armed criminals wreaking havoc,” he explained the dilemma.
He claimed that the military being led by the police is viewed as reversed role, hence the possibility that KDF feels they have been downgraded.
“There is no brigadier or an army general who will accept to be commanded by the police, that will never happen. That is why you see some laxity in the ongoing security operation. This is where the conflict is, and it trickles down to the troupe,” said Col (Rtd) Kwonyike.
Colonel (Rtd) Stephen Boiwo, who also led the massive operation to flush out the Sabaot Land Defence Force (SLDF) in Mt Elgon in 2008, said the military should be allowed to lead the disarmament for it to be successful.
However, he said, the approval of Parliament will be needed. “The Constitution is very clear. The military will only be deployed to assist civil authority, who will take the command after being cleared by the Parliament, failure to which they will just be there doing nothing,” said Col (Rtd) Boiwo.
“If the military would be allowed to lead this operation, I am very sure that they will manage to bring sanity. In any way, the police have no combat skills to deal with the emboldened criminals as compared to the military and the KDF would always want to be independent when carrying out their operations, not taking orders from another force but it should also be sanctioned by the parliament,” he added.
Unless the KDF are allowed to command the ongoing operation in the North Rift, they will not do much, said the ex-soldier.
“It is clear the police will not manage to flush out the bandits, owing to their numbers and the skills they have acquired overtime. If the internal security has been defeated in bringing sanity, then the last resort is deploying the military, but through proper procedures,” he said.