Inside the Kapedo kill zone: Why police have become an easy target for bandits

For years, police have been working to contain insecurity in the killing fields of Kapedo in Baringo County.

But the harsh terrain, which makes it easy for bandits to ambush officers and disappear, has affected security operations in the area.

Investigators are now burning the midnight oil to nail those who supply the bandits with sophisticated weapons.

This comes after most families fled the area to seek refuge in camps kilometres away, after police launched a security operation to arrest bandits who have been unleashing terror.

Two months ago, a General Service Unit Commander Santulino Tebakol Emadau, 53, was gunned down by bandits in Kapedo at the border of Baringo and Turkana counties.

Four days after the incident, a Chief Inspector of Police Moses Lekairab and his driver, Police Constable Benson Kaburu were shot dead at Amayan Bridge that connects Kapedo and the North Rift region on January 21.

Rounded up

And as the officers were mourning the death of their colleagues, six people, including an official of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, were rounded up in a restaurant at Chemulgot trading centre 21km from Kapedo. Their bodies were later found with gunshot wounds.

The Standard interviewed security personnel deployed in Kapedo to establish why the area has become a hard nut to crack for security agencies.

Although senior police officers declined to grant us an interview, officers on the ground, who spoke on condition of anonymity, revealed why security forces have become easy target for bandits.

“The attacks against security officers, especially our seniors are a not a random thing. They (attacks) are well thought out, well planned and carried out when we least expect,” said an officer who is currently in the operation zone.

The officer, who had travelled to Nakuru to collect foodstuff and other items, said the recent attacks were meant to send a warning to the government for allegedly siding with one of the warring communities.

The source says the killing of Emadau in January was deliberate and well-planned and executed by bandits from one of the warring communities.

“For this case, the Pokot were against Emadau because they had been informed that he was Turkana. His name sounded like a Turkana. They believed his deployment in the area was meant to protect their rivals-the Turkana,” he said.

He added: “There were also claims that the officer was ferrying food to the Turkana –their enemies. They saw themselves as easy targets now that the Turkana had someone in the force to help them.”

According to another officer involved in the security operation, the scene of the attacks in January is also telling.

He said the killing of two officers at Amayan Bridge gives a clear indication of a well-planned attack as the area has good cover for an ambush.

“The bridge is in a laager and the attackers were perched on top, giving them a good view of the bridge. Once the officers reached the bridge their fate was sealed…” said the officer who sought anonymity because he is not authorised to speak to the media.

Officers interviewed believe that what started as a cultural practice of cattle rustling has seen bandits possess sophisticated arms and terrorise the northern frontier districts.

Most attacks against security officers are largely unprovoked and have got them unawares, either while fetching firewood, returning to the station or taking food supplies to their colleagues.

Rift Valley Regional Commissioner George Natembeya has accused some local leaders of being complicit in the attacks. “There are a number of leaders who are on our radar over the attacks in Kapedo. We believe some are helping to arm the bandits,” he said without giving details so as not to jeopardise investigations into the matter.

The terrain in Kapedo and the surrounding areas are also familiar to the bandits.

“The hills, the valleys and the escapements have been perfect hiding places for the bandits to avoid being detected by the security officers or the residents,” another officer said.

The aggressive bandits take out anyone who stands in their mission to steal cattle.

“When bandits are going for a raid, they are docile, they try as much as possible not to be detected, but after the raid they became more defensive, and they will attack anyone who comes in their way. Because of this, security officers know that the best response is to prevent the bandits from accomplishing a mission which they take long to plan for,” he added.

The officers said although cattle rustling has in the past been a factor in the escalating conflict, the killing of security officers is done to prove a point.

“A bandit who kills a policeman gains respect among his peers especially if the target is a senior officer. The assailant is elevated to the rank of that particular officer, and his mates will respect him for that. It is like winning a gold medal,” he said.

John Lotirok, a resident of Chemulngot, concurs with police that cattle rustling has now changed to a war between communities over resources and the police are pawns in the crime syndicate that involves politicians.

Mr Lotirok said that security officers are victims of circumstances. “It is sad that our officers who are doing a good job to restore law and order find themselves victims of the communal conflict. The Turkana blame security officers for ferrying the Pokot to Ameyan market while the Pokot on the other hand claim that officers assist the Turkana,” he explained.

Abuse their positions

Lotirok noted that the conflict has a long history pitting the Pokot and Turkana.

“On one hand we have had the Pokot accusing the security officers of being hesitant to deal with Turkana Kenya Police Reservists whom they claim abuse their positions to raid their homes,” he said.

Bandits who in the past used spears now own sophisticated weapons like AK47 and G3 guns. “Guns are brought from Uganda through West Pokot and others from South Sudan but due to the distance, the middlemen sell them for between Sh70,000 and Sh100,000,” he said.

Baringo County Police commander Robinson Ndiwa noted that bandits have been targeting the officers when there was is no operation.

“On December 31, last year, our officer was shot while he was fetching firewood at Chemoe. On January 17, we lost a GSU officer who was heading to Marigat after he was shot at Ameyan,” he said.

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