It is now or never as more soldiers arrive in bandit-prone North Rift

Kenya Defence Forces

Kenya Defence Forces soldiers in a convoy at Marigat in Baringo County on Friday. A security operation involving the soldiers and police officers to flush out bandits has started in the volatile Kerio Valley region.

Photo credit: Jared Nyataya | Nation Media Group

More Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) soldiers landed in the banditry-prone North Rift Friday even as the Law Society of Kenya (LSK) raised constitutional questions about their deployment.

In a letter to Interior Cabinet Secretary Kithure Kindiki, LSK president Eric Theuri described the deployment of the KDF troops as “a serious threat” to national security and public order.

 “The LSK is, therefore, concerned that the intended deployment of the Kenya Defence Forces to assist the police in dealing with the serious threat posed to national security, public order and safety is in clear violation of the Constitution as has been done by the government under the cover of public orders 1 and 2 of 2023.

“We also fault the public statement issued by the Cabinet Secretary Ministry of Interior and National Administration on February 14, 2023, amending the operation contained in the Gazette notice to read ‘Police-Led with Assistance of the Military’ under Article 241 (3) (b) of the Constitution,” he said in the letter.

The LSK said they would move to court within three days if no action was taken. Mr Theuri demanded that the CS rescind the offending Gazette notice and regularise the operation by seeking prior approval of the National Assembly before deploying KDF officers in the troubled region.

“The attempt to restore peace unconstitutionally can only expose the valiant Kenyan men and women in the security sector to risks of personal culpability for actions not sanctioned by the Constitution. In light of the grave security situation in the affected areas, we trust that you will take the necessary and prompt action to regularise the operation,” said the LSK boss.

But to North Rift locals, after decades of massive life and property loss under the gun-toting bandits, it is only the KDF troops who might save them from the brazen raiders who have even felled General Service Unit (GSU) officers.

According to Prof Kindiki, in the last six months alone, over 100 civilians and sixteen officers have been slain by the ruthless killers who are oscillating between Turkana, West Pokot, Samburu, Laikipia, Baringo and Elgeyo Marakwet counties.

Prof Kindiki declared the region disturbed and dangerous, to facilitate the security operation and mop-up of illegal guns believed to be in their thousands.

A Kenya Defence Forces vehicle

A Kenya Defence Forces vehicle at Marigat in Baringo County on February 17, 2023.

Photo credit: Jared Nyataya | Nation Media Group

And on Friday, signs of the anticipated security operation in the region became apparent after the government deployed hundreds of KDF soldiers. They arrived in the evening in a convoy of over 20 KDF vehicles, creating a spectacular moment in Marigat town as they snaked their way along the Marigat-Chemolingot highway.

The convoy later split into two—one headed for the troubled areas in Mochongoi of Baringo South as the other proceeded towards Tiaty. Already, there are two KDF bases in the region—one platoon is stationed at Chesitet in Tiaty and the other is at Mukutani in Baringo South.

Even as details of the operation remain highly guarded, a high-ranking KDF officer told Sunday Nation they were ready for the mission, though admitting it would not be an easy one. “From the onset, our mission is always outside our borders. But when you see us around, it means the local mechanism needs to be boosted to firmly and effectively deal with the issue,” said the officer who sought anonymity in reference to the operation.

 “The mission must be won at all costs, whether now or in the future because the region has been hard hit by the banditry menace.”

But even as the soldiers assemble their arsenal, they are faced with myriad challenges, including rugged terrains and battle-hardened criminals. Trans Nzoia governor George Natembeya, who served as Rift Valley Regional Commissioner, forewarned the troops of the logistical challenges and the tough bandits.

“The exercise will not be easy, but with the entry of KDF, the fight against banditry will be on,” said Mr Natembeya.

“These people are bolder than al-Shabaab. The bandits in the North Rift are not cowards. They set up traps and ambush police officers, they shoot and kill them, take the guns and ammunition and go with them.”

Similar exercises in the past by successive governments left a trail of destruction, lifelong injuries and destruction of property and the locals want the exercise to be humane and only target the bandits. “The bandits live in the hills and have a wide view of the villages. They see anyone approaching them and they can only be flushed out with air support,” he said.

Some of the hills in which the bandits are hiding are Kapkosom, Lormoru, Kapindasun Katilomwo, Tandar, Arabal, Kasiele, Chebinyiny, and Korkoron.

Rift Valley Regional Commissioner Abdi Hassan said the operation will be intelligence-led and they have since isolated the bandits from the population. “Nobody should worry that the innocent will be hurt. We are going to the bushes to smoke the bandits out,” he said.