British army defends use of dangerous chemical during training in Samburu

British soldiers

British soldiers at Lolldaiga training area in Laikipia County on November 14, 2022. 

Photo credit: Joseph Kanyi | Nation Media Group

The British Army Training Unit in Kenya (Batuk) has defended its use of white phosphorus during military drills in Kenya, clarifying that it is only used under strict safety precautions.

The chemical is used for night illumination during training, but has been a cause of concern to environmentalists and pastoralist communities in Laikipia and Samburu counties.

Though its use is not banned, as a weapon, it can cause fire to rain down on targets, inflicting indiscriminate damage, and international laws require that it should not be used in areas occupied by civilians.

Mr Lorishio Kuri, a herdsman from Losesia village in Samburu East sub-county, recently told the Nation that he fears that it might cause a hazardous effect on his livestock.

“I hear there is a dangerous chemical being used by British soldiers. Our fear is that the chemical might find its way to our livestock watering points or it can be washed to our grazing fields, Mr Kuri said. 

Globally, the use of white phosphorus raised concerns at the height of the Ukraine-Russia conflict, with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky accusing Russian soldiers of using the chemical weapon on civilians.

But Batuk’s community and media liaison officer, Adrian Weale, told journalists on Monday that Kenyans residing in areas bordering training grounds have nothing to fear because all the required safety standards have been put in place.

“We do train with it when conditions allow. If it is very dry and windy, we do not use it because it can start a fire. In terms of its environmental impact, it is no different from other high explosives used by other militaries across the world,” Major Weale said.

About 3,000 British soldiers visit Kenya every year for training, with exercises taking place in the Lolldaiga Conservancy in Laikipia County and Archers Post in Samburu County.

Major Weale said residents who neighbour Archer’s Post, where soldiers conduct their training with live ammunition, should not be terrified because they conduct thorough surveillance before and after their exercises. 

“We have nothing to hide because we do not have any secrecy or sinister [motive]. We come here to train jointly with our KDF partners. We try to minimise negative impact to the environment by using simulation as much as possible. When things go wrong, we clean up ourselves

Major Weale spoke at Lolldaiga Conservancy, where British soldiers demonstrated to the media how they conduct their training in partnership with the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF).

Community members living around the Lolldaiga Conservancy have in the past one year been embroiled in a legal tussle with Batuk over a fire sparked during military training exercises that destroyed more than 10,000 acres of land. 

A liaison committee was formed by the Kenyan and United Kingdom governments and allowed community members to seek compensation over the fire that occurred in March 2021.

Aggrieved locals should channel their grievances to the liaison committee accordingly, Major Weale advised.

Speaking to the Nation recently, the UK High Commissioner to Kenya, Jane Marriott, said the partnership between the two countries is intended to empower the local community economically.

“Apart from their usual training, partnership with the local community is the heart of what Batuk do. We engage in community-based projects like supporting education, infrastructure, environment and health,” Ms Marriott said during her tour to Nanyuki.

Since the Defence Cooperation Agreement between the two countries was signed in 2016, Batuk has contributed over Sh5.8 billion to the local economy.

The British soldiers’ training base in Nanyuki offers permanent employment to over 550 Kenyans, while about 1,500 are casual employees.

“We have over the years had a good relationship with the local community in Nanyuki and vice versa. Batuk is a great investment to the local community and the love is felt both ways,” she said.