Killing fields: KDF, police versus bandits... who will prevail?

President Ruto ordered the Kenya Defence Forces to carry out a joint security operation with the police in all banditry prone areas.

President William Ruto yesterday promised to act tough on insecurity in troubled areas of the North Rift region and other parts of the country, which have been hit hard by banditry attacks.

Speaking after meeting leaders from Baringo County at State House in Nakuru, the Head of State ordered the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) to conduct a joint security operation with the police in all banditry-prone areas starting today to combat lawlessness, which has hampered education and development and caused tensions among communities.

The government also gave a three-day amnesty for the surrender of firearms in the region.

“We must do whatever it takes to bring peace to banditry-prone areas. We will do everything possible to weed out a few criminals who must stop or we will force them to stop,” he said. The meeting was attended by Baringo Governor Benjamin Cheboi, MPs William Kamket Kassait (Tiaty), Joseph Makilap (Baringo North), Joshua Chepyegon Kandie (Baringo Central), Charles Kamuren (Baringo South), Reuben Kiborek (Mogotio) and Musa Sirma (Eldama Ravine).

“The President has directed the KDF to work jointly with the police to weed out bandits in various places that have experienced cattle rustling and banditry in Baringo, Kerio Valley and other parts of the county,” a legislator who attended the meeting told the Nation.

On Sunday, a tough-talking President Ruto reiterated his government’s commitment to fighting banditry. The Head of State, who spoke during an interdenominational prayer service in Nakuru City, said the government would embrace new measures of fighting the vice.

“We will use all means available to ensure we weed out bandits from the affected parts of the North Rift and other areas. My government will not entertain banditry,” said Dr Ruto.

In an effort to restore peace and security to the North Rift region, Ruto issued instructions for Interior Cabinet Secretary Kithure Kindiki to camp in the affected areas until sanity is restored.

Security operations

“I know we have issues regarding security operations in North Rift. I have instructed Prof Kindiki to leave his office in Nairobi and camp in the North Rift until these citizens stop losing their lives,” Dr Ruto said.

“With the government’s efforts, we will deal with them and ensure no Kenyan life is lost. We will deal with them ruthlessly,” he added. The move comes amid increased bandit attacks. Last week, four police officers were killed in an ambush on the Kitale-Lodwar highway.

At least 12 other people, including seven police officers, are admitted to hospital with multiple bullet wounds. A sub-county police commander is among the injured. The attackers also burnt two police vehicles after looting them. Police said the officers were on patrol on the highway Friday evening when they were ambushed near the Kenya Wildlife Services camp in Kaakong.

On Sunday night, an expectant teacher was gang-raped by armed bandits in Kainuk, Turkana South. Banditry has over the decades caused untold suffering characterised by many deaths and injuries on the people of Kerio Valley in Elgeyo Marakwet and other affected counties, including West Pokot, Baringo, Laikipia, Turkana  and Samburu.

On November 14, 2022, a tough talking Prof Kindiki stood before journalists, saying that the government will smoke out the bandits from their hideouts and bring down their financiers and those that buy stolen livestock.

In January 28, speaking in Arabal in Baringo County, Prof Kindiki promised to “move in and apply every human resource and weapon” the government has, to smoke out bandits from their caves and forests. This, as he assured residents that “learning in their schools will not be affected since the government is now deploying all its resources to ensure a return to normalcy.”

Fight banditry

And yesterday, as the CS gave updates on a newly formed high-level team to fight banditry, heavily armed attackers spent their afternoon laying siege in Ratia in Ol Moran, Laikipia West, seeking to reclaim hundreds of stolen cattle that were being held at Minjore Police Post. When they were repulsed by police officers, the bandits set ablaze an earthmover in a show of defiance, scaring residents.

“We are afraid that the attacks might escalate. Let the government intervene immediately because this is a trend that we do not want to witness again,” said Ms Hanna Njeri, a resident of Kamwenje. Prof Kindiki declared Elgeyo Marakwet, Baringo, West Pokot, Turkana, Laikipia, and Samburu counties as ‘disturbed’ and ‘dangerous’ areas triggering national emergency measures.

He added that, in the past six months, over 100 civilians and 16 police officers have been murdered, with schools, churches, police vehicles burned by bandits who have stepped up their attacks on civilians and security personnel.

The new anti-banditry force, known as the Land and Air Team (LAT), targets to drive out the bandits from their hideouts in gorges and valleys in Baringo, West Pokot, Elgeyo Marakwet and Laikipia counties.

After launching the team, the CS spent three days in Marigat, Baringo County, holed up in strategy meetings with senior security officials from the four counties and monitoring the LAT team’s activities while briefing the President on the progress.

Commenting on Prof Kindiki’s presence in Marigat, residents said they were happy about his commitment, but insisted that the menace is too complex to clear in a one-off operation and that it’s fuelled and financed by politicians who also provide weapons to the bandits.

“We always notice when a senior government official is around with the number of officers carrying out patrols. He has made several visits and we feel he wants to end this menace. We are happy because the Pokot bandits usually come to our town for business but we cannot move past the town for fear of being killed,” Mr Job Kurgat, a boda boda operator based in Marigat, told Nation.

Residents’ hopes that the attacks would subside because of the operations were dashed when 60 animals were stolen on Wednesday in Namayue, triggering fresh fears of similar attacks.

“At the moment, this town is safe; attacks are happening beyond those hills in areas like Mukutani. We are, however, stuck here, as we fear being attacked if we go past the town towards Tiaty. Schools have reopened but children are yet to resume studies because a good number had shifted from the area when they closed,” Mr Kurgat added.

Earlier, the CS had announced that the government is keen on ending banditry in 10 affected counties — West Pokot, Laikipia, Meru, Turkana, Garissa, Samburu, Marsabit, Kitui, Elgeyo Marakwet and Tana River where rampant cases have been reported in the past three months.

“I assure Kenyans that I will make whatever sacrifices that need to be made, I will stay focused until the banditry problem is over. Even if it means going to live in the North Rift…we will respect human rights but criminals have to be faced like criminals, period! Crimes have no ethnicity and are not political,” the CS had said while appearing before the National Assembly’s Appointments Committee.

Yesterday, Prof Kindiki said the LAT that has been issued a situation room at the Interior ministry’s headquarters will use technology to monitor and coordinate counter-banditry operations.

Drone surveillance

“The government is investing in community-based intelligence, drone surveillance technology, modern personal protection equipment and kitting for our security personnel and application of land and air assets to neuter bandits and rustlers,” he said.

Unlike before, Prof Kindiki further explained that recorded attacks have reduced during the past three months compared to before and that 60 per cent of all the livestock stolen from across 10 counties have been recovered and 15 schools reopened.

“Security teams across these counties are actively tracing the missing 40 per cent of stolen livestock as law enforcement agencies monitor the meat supply chain in urban areas to disrupt the criminal [network],” Prof Kindiki said while warning politicians found to be fanning the menace that they will be dealt with as criminals regardless of their political affiliation.

And, as the government uses hard power to tame banditry, others feel the need to incorporate soft approaches could also help, such as ending the illiteracy that is exploited by leaders and businessmen.

“The government can make it compulsory for children to attend boarding schools and are absorbed into the police service or military when they come of age as a long-term solution to this problem,” a police officer argued.

“Provision of basic services like security, water, hospitals, and roads could also go a long way in making the locals not feel neglected by the government and eliminate the need to purchase weapons to secure themselves,” he added.

In a bid to end insecurity in the region, the military is also setting up a buffer zone along the borders of Turkana and Marsabit by building barracks in the two counties.

 Reporting by Eric Matara, Stephen Njuguna and Mary Wambui