The Special Forces of Kenya’s military

What you need to know:

  • In the army, they are based in the parachute battalion, which has a world-wide tradition of wearing green berets.

Special Forces are military units trained to perform unconventional high-risk missions such as counter-terrorism operations that may at times include hostage rescue.

In the army, they are based in the parachute battalion, which has a world-wide tradition of wearing green berets. It is the same in Kenya and over the last 50 years the public has become familiar with the Green Eagles freefall display team which regularly performs in Agricultural Society of Kenya (ASK) shows.

Paratroopers are the mainstay of Special Forces because they can be dropped almost anywhere including deep behind enemy lines to perform risky missions such as sabotage and demolitions and infiltrating an enemy where it thinks it is strongest.

In the Kenya Police, the General Service Unit’s Recce Company has some special operations capability.

But the bedrock of the country’s Special Forces operations is the 20 Parachute Battalion based in Gilgil. It is one of the oldest units of Kenya Defence Forces (KDF). In fact, the idea of having an airborne force was perceived at Independence.

THE PIONEERS

On October 14, 1964, the first batch of 40 officers were sent to Britain for Parachute Basic Training course at the Royal Air Force Base, Abingdon.

Similar numbers subsequently followed until about 200 Kenyan troops qualified to form the 1st Independent Parachute Company on April 24, 1965.

The first African officer to command the company was Maj Daniel Opande. He would rise to become the country’s pre-eminent soldier diplomat and was United Nations Mission to Sierra Leone (Unamsil) Force Commander at the close of the 1990s.

He retired as Vice-Chief of the General Staff in 2000. Maj Opande commanded 20 Paratroop between 1970 and 1972 and was succeeded by Maj Marsden Madoka, later to become an MP and Cabinet minister. He is currently chairman of the Kenya Revenue Authority.

The companies of 20 Paratroop Battalion include a ranger strike company (The Rangers), a Special Force Company, a Support Company, a Headquarters Company and an independent Parachute Training School.

This school trains not only the personnel of 20 Para as they are known for short, but other students from the Army and even from the Air Force and the Navy.

Its divisions include Parachute Training Wing, Tactics Training Wing and Weapons Training Wing.

The 20 Paratroop Battalion has contributed substantially in internal and external security operations in the country. Some of these operations include the Shifta campaign in the North Eastern Province between 1965 and 1968 and the Ngoroko campaign in Turkana and West Pokot districts between 1984 and 1990.

It also participated in Operation Good Hope in Moyale in 2004 whose main objective was to flush out the Ethiopian rebel group, Oromo Liberation Front.

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