What you need to know:
- Military jets had late yesterday afternoon started hovering over parts of the troubled Northern Rift Valley, signalling the arrival of Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) troops.
- The soldiers have been assigned to execute what has been described as a painful but decisive operation to rid the region of criminals behind the banditry menace.
- And while the decision has been welcomed by many, some residents, particularly in Baringo, were seen fleeing their homes, fearing ‘harassment’ during the joint exercise that will be carried out by KDF and police officers.
Military jets had late yesterday afternoon started hovering over parts of the troubled Northern Rift Valley, signalling the arrival of Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) troops.
The soldiers have been assigned to execute what has been described as a painful but decisive operation to rid the region of criminals behind the banditry menace.
And while the decision has been welcomed by many, some residents, particularly in Baringo, were seen fleeing their homes, fearing ‘harassment’ during the joint exercise that will be carried out by KDF and police officers.
Inspector-General of Police Japhet Koome landed at the Anti-Stock Theft Unit base in Turkana amid tight security, a day after President William Ruto ordered the KDF to move in and restore order in the disturbed region.
Mr Koome arrived in a Kenya Air Force helicopter and left for Lokori in Turkana East Sub-county after holding a security meeting in Kainuk.
The IG said the military forces were joining the multi-agency team that has been conducting a major security operation in Kainuk near the border of Turkana and West Pokot, which will now be extended to all parts declared disturbed and dangerous.
At least two army jets were spotted in Kainuk, where bandits have killed many, including police officers. A spot check revealed intensified security patrols by officers in armoured personnel carriers (APCs) and land cruisers on the Kainuk-Kaakong road.
Multiple sources indicated that armed bandits have infiltrated villages in Turkana South Sub-county, including Lorogon, Amolem, Lochakula and Loyapat, staging attacks targeting motorists along the Kapenguria-Lodwar highway.
Political leaders in the region, who had demanded deployment of the army, have acknowledged that it comes with a cost, with some calling for the suspension of the exercise and rooting for dialogue instead.
The KDF has in the past launched a major assault on the Sabaot Land Defence Force (SLDF), a ragtag militia that had been terrorising residents of Mount Elgon since 2005.
The large-scale military assault in March 2008 sparked allegations of serious human rights abuses by the Kenya Army, including murder, torture, rape and arbitrary detention.
The dreaded militia had been accused of killing more than 600 people, besides displacing more than 66,000 and of committing murder, torture, rape, theft and destruction of property.
The claims prompted the government to order a crackdown that involved hundreds of soldiers and five helicopters.
By July 2008, fighting had substantially declined, with the SLDF having been virtually destroyed.
SLDF leader Wycliffe Matwakei Komol was killed by the troops on May 16, 2008.
On Monday evening, Interior Cabinet Secretary Kithure Kindiki declared the entire Northern Rift Valley region ‘disturbed’ and ‘dangerous’ and ordered a three-day voluntary arms surrender amnesty, after which the military operation is expected to start.
In Turkana County, security has been intensified in Kainuk, where four police officers were killed by bandits last Friday and seven others injured.
Prof Kindiki was expected to visit and assess the security situation in Turkana East Sub-county, according to County Police Commander Samwel Ndanyi.
Locals welcomed the move, saying bandits must be flushed out from Loyapat and several Kraals in South Turkana National Reserve, from where they attack motorists, security officers and residents.
“They should also be disarmed and escape routes to Uganda completely sealed,” said Ms Margaret Arot, a resident of Kainuk.
In Baringo, residents of Arabal, Kasiela and Sinoni were seen fleeing their homes ahead of the joint military and police operation.
Sinoni Primary School, which was temporarily closed on Monday following an attack, was deserted as parents and children fled towards Mochongoi.
The school’s head teacher, Mr Moses Kiptegoi, said they closed the school after the pupils stayed away.
“All that we want is peace. The bandits have caused untold suffering,” said Mr Joseph Seeru, an elder from Lamaiwe village in Mochongoi, Baringo South, which was attacked by bandits last week.
The armed bandits are believed to be hiding along River Tandar on the border of Laikipia and Baringo counties, three kilometres from Lamaiwe village.
“We have been hearing some loud noise along the River since yesterday evening,” said an elder.
Last week, armed bandits attacked the village and drove away more than 60 goats.
“We have not been able to plant crops since last year because of the persistent attacks. We are staring at a serious food shortage,” said the elder.
The head teacher of Kapindusum Primary School, Mr Elijah Kiptoon, said tension was high in the area.
Mr Kiptoon appealed to the Kenya Red Cross to move in and offer emergency assistance.
In Baringo North, areas such as Loruk, Yatya, Chemoe and Chepkesin have been hit hard by bandit attacks in the past, with locals fleeing areas such as Chepkesin.
“It is a wait-and-see for us. We have had similar operations that have not yielded much,” said Mr Victor Sumukwo, a resident of Chemoe in Baringo North, who welcomed the planned disarmament.
Mukutani ward has been rocked by insecurity for more than three decades, which has seen residents seek refuge in the relatively calm Marigat ward.
On Monday, former Rift Valley Regional Commissioner George Natembeya detailed the complexities of the banditry menace in the Kenyan North.
According to Mr Natembeya, politicians are the main beneficiaries of cattle rustling and banditry.
In an interview with NTV, the Trans Nzoia Governor termed a former top government official as the weak link in the fight against the criminals, noting that the National Intelligence Service had a list of the perpetrators of the menace that has claimed thousands of lives.
Elgeyo-Marakwet Governor Wesley Rotich concurred with Mr Natembeya and welcomed the deployment of KDF soldiers terming it a timely intervention in a complex insecurity situation.
“We applaud President William Ruto for deploying KDF since the bandits were getting bolder by the day as they continued with their killing spree. All along the police lacked support making them complicit and we are optimistic the military will arrest the situation,” Mr Rotich at his Iten office on Tuesday.
He expressed confidence that the operation will restore order in the region.
“When all this is done there should be a marshal plan to develop the region and make education compulsory to discourage banditry and make the children agents of change,” said the governor, citing Tiaty as one area that needs a radical change of mindset through the education approach.
The bandits from the pastoral communities have access to sophisticated weapons that they use to outwit multi-agency security teams that are deployed to the region to combat armed conflicts caused by cattle raids and banditry activities.
Thousands of guns and endless of ammunition change hands across the Kerio Valley region daily, with more than 100 civilians and 16 police officers killed in the last six months, according to the Interior CS.
“What is happening is that armed criminals have never abided by directives by the government to surrender the illegal firearms and allow dialogue on lasting peace, but instead some of them are acquiring more sophisticated weapons. It is no longer about cattle raids or banditry activities but the criminals have changed tact and are now targeting businesses and looting property,” said Richard Chetotum, a resident of Kapedo.
Some of the bandits who stage daring attacks in Kapedo on the border of Baringo and Turkana counties escape using the notorious Lokwachula “corridor” towards West Pokot County and end up in Uganda, where they take refuge among their cousins, and only return after the government suspends the disarmament operations.
Some of the warring community members are found in both Kenya and Uganda and move freely across the two countries in search of pasture and water for their livestock.
“What we know is that some of these criminals could be hiding in Suguta Valley or are in West Pokot on their way to Uganda,” Mr Chetotum said.
Addressing journalists at Kainuk's Anti Stock Theft Unit Camp after a four-hour closed-door meeting with various security heads led by Turkana County Police Commander Samwel Ndanyi, the multiagency approach has a main goal of eliminating persons causing instability in Turkana, Elgeyo Marakwet, Baringo, West Pokot, Samburu, and Laikipia counties.
According to CS Kindiki, a new anti-banditry force known as the Land and Air Team (LAT) has been formed and targets to drive out bandits from their hideouts in gorges and valleys in Baringo, West Pokot, Elgeyo Marakwet, and Laikipia counties. The CS pitched camp in Marigat for three days last week, meeting senior security officials from the region to strategize on how to contain the banditry attacks.
The Kerio Valley region is occupied by members of the Pokot, Turkana, Marakwet, Tugen, Illchamus, and Samburu communities who are entangled in protracted armed and cattle-raiding conflicts.
Reporting by Caroline Wafula, Sammy Lutta, Ken Rutto, Fred Kibor and Stanley Kimuge.