Unthinkable: How doomed mission claimed 42 trained policemen to bandits.
The full horror of the bandit attack on police in Samburu is out; 42 out of 107 deployed to track down armed cattle rustlers were killed.
Several more are missing and the picture the survivors paint, cruelly written with the blood of the fallen heroes some freshly out of college and despatched to the treacherous duty, is blood-curdling massacre.
But what confounded the pain of the country over the incident that claimed the lives of the highest number of policemen with a single swish was the silence of the President and top politicians.
This was particularly given the speed and resoluteness with which he has previously declared national holidays in honour of fallen politicians.
But what stood out, and for which many Kenyans should hang their heads in shame — moreso top Government officials — was the fact the bodies of the officers riddled with bullets and bearing caked blood, were left in open trucks for two days, and had started decomposing.
Even by yesterday, the bodies were yet to be flown to Nairobi amid claims a helicopter to transport them broke down.
The killings took place on Saturday and Sunday, and given the scorching Samburu sun, and the fact that most of the bodies had not been taken to the morgue as transport to Nairobi was expected from Sunday, the jointsand muscles of their bodies stiffened quickly (known as rigor mortis).
And in that kind of heat, their flesh easily began to rot, raising questions as to why the Internal Security Ministry could not liaise with the its Defence counterpart to provide quick military transport for the bodies of security officers who died in service to their country.
The other factor that baffled many Kenyans was how such a mission was bungled by sending police officers drawn mainly from Nakuru, and very unfamiliar with the rugged and hilly topography of Suguta valley and surrounding areas, without air cover or even Intelligence cover.
As it turned out — from enquiries by The Standard — the officers, who seemingly had no idea of the ferocity and firepower at the hands of the hardened bandits, were sandwiched in an ambush and slaughtered.
They were shot at from all directions and in the confusion that followed they could not put on a common defensive front, making them easy targets for the attackers.
When the guns went silent, 42 officers lay dead, 11 of them apparently killed on Saturday and the next batch in the second round of attacks the following day targeting those who were badly maimed.
The latter, who could have been rescued, were left to die a slow and excruciating death in the bushes of the merciless Suguta valley as their attackers, believed to be Turkana rustlers, escaped into the hills of Merti.
Officers from the paramilitary General Service Unit, regular police and Administration and Anti-Stock Theft Units dropped off from two lorries and entered the harsh valley at dawn on Saturday after spotting the rustlers driving away hundreds of cattle.
Unknown to them, the rustlers had divided themselves into groups with the experienced and heavily armed among them giving cover to those driving the stolen animals forward.
“We had seen the stolen livestock ahead of us in the belly of the valley, but when approached them, we were attacked from all directions from the top of the hills surrounding the valley,” said one officer, who repeatedly asked not to be named, as he is not the police spokesperson.
The attack by hundreds of armed so-called Ngoroko bandits left many police officers dead and many more wounded with life threatening injuries.
Seven police officers immediately airlifted to Nairobi together with three reservists were said to be responding well to treatment, while others were admitted at Mararal District Hospital.
Police sources said those deployed to carry out the operation were mostly fresh officers who had served in the force for less than two years.
Multiple sources at the Rift Valley Provincial Headquarters told The Standard a majority of the officers killed were barely two years in the force, making them vulnerable to attacks as they lacked ‘war tactics’.
“It is unfortunate that a majority of those sent for that operation were hardly experienced in search situations. They had difficulties in even communication immediately they were attacked because of the tough terrain,’’ said a senior officer at the provincial headquarters on condition of anonymity.
Speaking from Samburu, a police officer said 14 bodies were brought to Mararal on a truck on Sunday afternoon, but more were recovered later. “The valley is called Suguta and there are some officers who are calling for help. The chopper pilots are trying to locate them,” said the officer.
Another police officer undergoing treatment at Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH) said there were over 100 police officers and some police reservists who congregated at the top of Suguta valley before descending down. Yesterday, Police Commissioner Mathew Iteere and the Rift Valley provincial security team visited the region with more officers to supplement those carrying out the rescue operation.
It was reported that the killing of their colleagues traumatised officers left in the field after the ambush.
A source told The Standard officers who escaped the attack are now pleading to be withdrawn and new colleagues dispatched.
“We are scared to the core. Having seen colleagues we were plotting cattle recovery attempts with die is simply scaring. We are still around but thoroughly worried, and we are requesting that those who never saw the bodies of colleagues take our places’ said an officer on the ground.
About 40 Administration Police (AP) Officers left Nakuru town on November 2 to join the recovery team deployed to track stolen herds and disarm locals believed to possess sophisticated weapons.
Yesterday morning, more officers drawn from the dreaded GSU, Anti-Stock Theft Unit and AP were dispatched to the region.
A police officer said that by yesterday afternoon, no recovery of the animals had been made.
“We were ambushed before we would make any recovery. We can’t tell where they are hiding since the terrain is really bad,” he noted.
At the Nakuru Provincial Headquarters, officers discussed the tragedy in low tones and avoided any interviews with the media.
“We can’t talk to you about our predicament. We are scared that we might be on the line for deployment to that scary territory. We don’t mind the military taking our place now in that operation as happened at the Coast,’’ said a visibly shaken officer manning a Government office.
At KNH, an officer said they were struggling to navigate the treacherous and desolate stretch of Suguta valley when they were shot at from all directions.
The Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA) said it would launch independent investigations into the unfortunate killings of the officers, and extended its condolences to families of the slain heroes while wishing the injured a quick recovery