Jurisdictional differences, blame games and lack of clear command lines negatively affected the response to the terrorist attack in Mandera in which five people, including three police officers, were killed on Monday.
The five died after the attackers shot at a convoy of two buses and a police vehicle.
Inquiries and reconstruction of the rescue mission by the Nation established that a coordinated rescue mission was delayed because of blame games and disputes over intelligence sharing by authorities in Banisa and Mandera North sub-counties who were commanding units on the ground.
Mandera North Deputy County Commissioner Denis Kirui blamed his Banisa counterparts for failing to brief his office of the presence of Al-Shabaab militants at the border of the two administrative units.
Knew of planned attack
“The Banisa team knew of the planned attack and withdrew their team, exposing our Rhamu team. We did not receive any information on an impending attack on the buses along the road from our Banisa Sub County counterparts,” Mr Kirui said.
Normally, buses are escorted by armed police officers from Mandera, who hand over to another team when the vehicles cross into another sub county.
“Our team normally escorts the buses up to Sarman, where the Banisa team takes over, then hands over to the Mandera West team. But the Banisa team did not come to pick the buses on Monday,” Mr Kirui said.
It remained unclear why the Banisa officers failed to arrive and escort the two buses, leading to the Mandera North Security team escorting the buses past the meeting point.
Denied withholding information
However, Banisa Sub County Police Commander Khamasi Shivogo denied withholding information and claimed that he shared the security brief with the Rhamu Police Station OCS.
“We always share information and I personally did it. I dispatched three groups of officers to respond to reinforce the Rhamu team since they were already on the road,” Mr Shivogo said.
A bus from Nairobi remained in Takaba town due to the tense situation on the road, while the buses from Mandera proceeded with the journey.
Tuesday, Mr Kirui admitted that there was a security scare on the road on Sunday, and one of two buses had to return to Olla centre for safety.
A security operation was carried out on Sunday and by Monday, the road was cleared for use.
“On Sunday there was a scare but our personnel did not come in contact with the militants. We cleared the road and the buses were good to go,” he said.
Mr Edwin Kiogora, a passenger in the bus whose trip aborted on Sunday, said there was no armed police escort that day.
“There were only two police officers on board when we were shot at on Sunday. We managed to return to Olla where we spent the night. We waited for the bus from Mandera that arrived on Monday with police escort,” he said.
According to Mr Kiogora, the two police officers and the driver of their bus refused to travel without police reinforcement.
“The second bus arrived at noon and after deliberations, both drivers and the police agreed we would proceed,” he said.
The second bus named Moyale Liner arrived at Olla with about nine police officers escorting it.
“It was known to everyone that the militants were on the road but how the police decided that we should proceed remains a mysterious to me,” he said.
While at Olla, Mr Kiogora changed vehicles from the Moyale Raha bus to Moyale Liner to join his friend John Muturi, a driver.
Mr Kiogora said a woman waved at their bus signalling things were not that good but the driver ignored the woman with her donkey cart.
“If we had stopped and listened to that woman I think all this could not have befallen us,” he said.
The attack then happened barely 50 kilometres later, according to Mr Kiogora.
“Moyale Raha that was ahead swerved off the road and I saw about 10 armed men on the road shooting at us. The shooting intensified from either side of the road as their driver struggled to turn the bus.
“Our driver managed to make a turn but he was bleeding profusely. He had sustained multiple injuries,” Mr Kiogora said.
Realising the driver was losing a lot of blood, Kiogora said a co-driver took over but the bus overturned immediately.
The police who were behind the two buses drove into the ambush without making any efforts to turn, according to Mr Kiogora.
“The police drove past us only to be overpowered by the militants from either side of the road,” he said.
The police vehicle was hit by a rocket propelled grenade (RPG) and was reduced to ashes.
“We were lucky that the first RPG missed our bus but I think it landed in the bush,” Mr Kiogora said.
At least 10 victims of the attack are admitted to Mandera County Referral Hospital, according to the Medical Superintendent Hassan Kala.
“They are three females and seven males. Three were attended to at the theatre and are in stable condition. We have one more patient undergoing an operation in the theatre today,” Mr Kala.
A shared police incident report indicated two police officers and a civilian died at the scene.
The report said all the officers were from Rhamu Police Station in Mandera North, escorting two buses, Moyale Raha and Moyale Liner from Rhamu to Banisa.
Officers killed at the scene were identified as number Benard Kibon and Abdiaziz Mohamed. The injured police officers included Paul Azera, Wood Well Bett, Cosmos Mutiso, Wallace Kibet, Ruwo Chogo, Bethwel Kipyegon and Cosmas Muasya.
The officers lost six firearms at the scene and only three can be accounted for, according to the report filed at Rhamu Police Station.