From a distance, the tranquil atmosphere and breathtaking view of the Tandare valley in Baringo County can be enchanting to the eye.
Within the caves and ravines, however, armed bandits have found a haven from where they emerge to launch attacks on villages. The government declared Tandare Valley as one of the 30 areas targeted for a massive security operation.
Mr Olesupen Leshaan, a resident of Mukutani who was forced to flee his home due to the attacks, said the numerous caves offer a perfect hideout for the bandits.
“The caves are so big that they can accommodate over a hundred people at a go. The valley is not accessible by road, making it hard for security officers to reach it,” he explained. The bandits shoot anyone who approaches the area on sight, he added.
Locals claim bandits have on numerous occasions tried to shoot down overflying aircraft.
The difficult terrain has proved a challenge to security officers, who have been carrying out aerial bombardments in a bid to flush the bandits out.
Locals who spoke to Nation claimed that, to shield themselves from the bombings, the criminals have dug bunkers in their hideouts.
“The criminals seem to be very hardened because when the bombardment was going on, they were also shooting back,” Mr John Wendot, an elder in Kasiela, told Nation. Farms have been neglected and homes abandoned but, just a few years ago, the area was thriving with locals practising agriculture and pastoralism. People who had been displaced in areas like Arabal and Mukutani sought refuge in Tandare before the bandits hit and captured it too.
“We never imagined that we would be kicked out of our own homes. Bandits have taken over and are grazing thousands of stolen animals there,” said Mr Daniel Loreng, who fled his home in Tandare a decade ago. He said the valley has three rivers and several springs, making it rich in pasture.
“The bandits have sealed all the routes into the valley but what is puzzling us is how they communicate when entering and exiting the valley. The bandits attack both Baringo and Laikipia counties with ease because the valley neighbours them,” he says.
Locals say the bandits operate with military precision and are well organised.
At the height of the attacks, locals said they often saw a white helicopter that regularly overflew the hills. They claimed the aircraft dropped arms and supplies to the bandits.
“After displacing the locals, the bandits have settled down with their families,” Mr Leshaan said.
“With the coming of KDF [Kenya Defence Forces], we hope the bandits will be defeated so that the suffering locals can return to their homes and rebuild their lives,” he added.
Mr Leshaan said previously, the area was self-sustaining in terms of food and income.
“There was no hunger because food was plentiful and we even sold the surplus. We need a return to peace,” he said.
County Commissioner Abdirisack Jaldesa said the operation will be sustained and there will be a permanent security presence in the area.
“The bandits have defied all the amicable approaches to restore order in the region. And there is no turning back on the security operation until the residents in the region enjoy peace and prosperity,” said the administrator, who has described the ongoing security drive as ‘the mother of all operations.’