Kenya: State Brings Out the Big Guns to Combat Bandits of Laikipia

A map showing the location of the Ol Moran region of Laikipia, Kenya.
14 September 2021

A contingent of police officers arrive in an armoured personnel carrier at the Ol Moran Police Station, and disembark in haste, paving the way for another group of 10 to board the vehicle and leave.

They are followed behind by two police Land Cruisers, each carrying at least 14 heavily armed officers dressed in camouflage jackets and body armour, including ballistic vests.

At the police station, the remaining officers regroup, and are seen being briefed by their commanders as they take refreshments. Soon, another frontline combat vehicle arrives and it is another cycle of takeovers.

The scene can be mistaken for one of those in a war zone. But it is happening in Kenya, deep inside Laikipia County where police officers are battling bandits who have unleashed terror on the residents of the north and the west, killing 10, injuring dozens, and displacing hundreds.

It is in this operation that started two weeks ago and was escalated a week ago that the government has unveiled its rarely seen artillery, which is part of the fleet commissioned by President Uhuru Kenyatta at the GSU headquarters three years ago following a series on attacks on police officers in operation areas that left a large number of them dead.

The attacks included the Baragoi Massacre in which 42 police officers were killed by cattle rustlers.

Now in Laikipia, the armoured vehicles come in handy for the Rapid Deployment Unit, the General Service Unit, the Anti-Stock Theft Unit and the general duty officers who are deployed to the hotspot.

400 police officers

The Nation has learned that at least 400 police officers from different formations are involved in the operation meant to flush out the attackers.

The officers are also equipped with enough assault and protective equipment, according to National Police Service Director of Communications Bruno Shioso.

Mr Shioso said all units in the police service, including the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI), and a number of officers from services such as the Kenya Wildlife Service, the Kenya Forestry Service, among others, are involved.

"The operation is bearing fruit and that is why we are asking parents to allow their children to go back to school and people should start resuming their businesses. It must be noted that the operation is only being conducted in the area that was gazetted as disturbed and not the entire Laikipia County.

"The disturbed area is the Laikipia Nature Conservancy and its environs, and we have enough personnel covering this area. More have been deployed today and the operation is well coordinated," Mr Shioso told the Nation.

At least 10 people, among them three police officers, have lost their lives in the volatile area, with raiders chasing people from their homes and allowing herds of cattle to graze on maize plantations.

From last Thursday week, a National Police Airwing helicopter has been hovering over the disturbed sections of Laikipia, enabling the police service to identify the bandits' hideouts and coordinate the operation with officers on the ground.

Calm has been restored to the area, with the NPS saying it is working towards gradually returning people to their homes.

"The only deficiency we have right now is the assurance to the residents," Mr Shioso said.

The Rapid Deployment Unit, the GSU, Special Services and the Anti-Stock Theft Unit, Nation has learned, are tasked with active combat with the bandits. They are armed with AK47, M4A1 and G3 assault rifles and full fighting webbings that consist of extra magazine holders and pistols.

The General Duty officers are stationed at the Ol Moran Police Station and are tasked with maintaining order at the station and at other places where displaced families are sheltered, including the Ol Moran Technical Training Institute and the St Mark Catholic Church.

The DCI officers are also stationed at different areas to interrogate those arrested on suspicion of orchestrating the violence.

The National Intelligence Service (NIS) and a section of the National Police Reservists who were recently re-armed, have also been working hand in hand.

Police officers conducting the operation and who had last week expressed frustrations over lack of coordination told the Nation yesterday that since Thursday, when the Interior Cabinet Secretary visited the area, things have improved and that they now have a centralised command.

"We have orders coming from a centralised source and this eliminated the confusion that we had. We had been operating without a clear strategy before and we even risked engaging in friendly fire, but now, we are well organised," the officer said, adding that the armoured personnel carriers, which access all terrains with a 360-degree rotation shooting design, have really changed the game for the squads and troops.

Countrywide, the conservancy and its surroundings are the only places under an active operation and this has favoured the officers involved because they receive sufficient resources to counter the bandits.

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