Nairobi — The number of police officers killed in an ambush by bandits in Samburu at the weekend hit 42 on Monday after more bodies were discovered in the forest.
Some of the bodies had been recovered on Saturday and others on Sunday but police were shocked on Monday when they found 14 others found lying in Suguta Valley.
"We are shocked at what we saw... bodies of police officers lying all over the ground," a police officer who witnessed the discovery said.
"I have never seen something like this," the officer speaking on condition of anonymity said. "The number of officers killed is now 42."
Rift Valley Provincial Police Chief John M'mbijiwe and head of police operations in the region Willy Lugusa did not comment on the latest toll.
Police Spokesman Eric Kiraithe had earlier on Monday morning put the death toll at 31, before the other bodies were discovered.
Police officers hunting cattle rustlers in Suguta Valley were ambushed and shot indiscriminately by heavily armed militiamen believed to have come from Turkana.
"They had stolen cattle from the neighbouring community in Samburu and failed to return them. That is when the officers decided to pursue them," one police officer briefed on the circumstances of the attack said.
The group had allegedly stolen cattle from Samburu on October 30 where 13 people were killed.
Police Commissioner Mathew Iteere led a high-powered security team to the scene on Monday where he announced that "everything will be done to ensure the killers are brought to book."
He had been expected to fly back to Nairobi with the bodies of the slain officers and even ordered for ambulances and police vehicles to wait at the Wilson Airport but the arrangement was cancelled at the last minute.
Officers who had been mobilised to wait for the bodies at the airport told journalists they had been told to go back until Tuesday.
"We have been told to go back. The bodies are not being flown here today," one officer said adding "they have said the aircraft cannot fly at night until tomorrow (Tuesday) morning," he said.
A major security operation was underway in search of missing officers who have not been seen since Saturday when the ambush occurred.
Another senior police officer involved in the search and rescue team told Capital FM News that up to 107 officers were pursuing the rustlers when the ambush occurred.
"Only 50 came back alive," he said.
With the confirmed death of 42 officers, 15 remained missing.
"We do not know where they are but a major security operation is underway to find them, we hope to find them alive," another officer said, optimistic that his colleagues are still alive more two days after the deadly ambush. "We are praying to find them alive."
Nine other officers were recovering at the Kenyatta National hospital from wounds sustained in the attack which police headquarters said is the worst since independence.
Cattle theft and the ensuing clashes between rival pastoralist groups claim dozens of lives every year in arid northern Kenya.
However, it is rare for police officers to be attacked by rustlers.
The violence is not believed to be linked to politics, but it raises concerns over security and a lack of police capacity in volatile areas ahead of elections due to take place in March 2013.