Licensed to kill: The world of Kenya’s elite forces
Posted Tuesday, December 18 2012 at 02:00
- The thick of things: In the process of compiling this story over a few weeks, we spoke to top military brass and some of the special operators who opened up about their training. The findings are that Kenya’s elite forces are getting some mix-and-match training from their US and UK equivalents
In 2009, Captain Xavier Omondi of the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) led a team of six to the US Army National Guard (ARNG) Warrior Training Center at Fort Benning, Georgia.
Their mission was so secretive that not even their closest friends in the military knew about it, and their arrival on US soil on August 8, 2009 was the second time is as many years that Kenyan soldiers had stepped out for specialised Ranger training.
Those six members of the elite mission would, months later, pioneer the Kenyan Pre-Ranger Programme.
“We hope to develop a specialised unit that can respond to the country’s immediate threats,” Captain Omondi told the US National Guard newspaper then.
When they came back, a Rangers Strike Force (RSF) was set up, but its training and operations remain a well-guarded secret.
Almost at the same time, another elite unit, the Special Forces (SF), was established, forming Kenya’s first Special Operations Force. The team, known as Special Operations Regiment (SOR), is made up of the Rangers Strike Force — identified as 40RSF — and Special Forces (SF) — known as 30S.
Both RSF and SF were relatively unknown until Operation Linda Nchi was launched and they were deployed for special operations in Somalia.
Their performance at the war front was so brilliant that President Mwai Kibaki, during the recent Jamhuri Day celebrations, and as the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, rewarded a number of the outstanding fighters.
Among those honoured with a Silver Star (SS) was Captain Boniface Waithaka, the Officer Commanding (OC) Ranger Company that is currently based at Belesc Qoocani, Somalia.
Also honoured were rangers Samwel Marwa, Abdullahi Gabow, Emedele Epakolok and Mwambuzi Simba. Ranger Onsemus Namu was awarded with a Head of State Commendation.
The Gilgil Barracks, located about a kilometre from Gilgil town, is home to the special operators. And, to join the happy little family here, you have to be outstanding in the military field. Members of these elite units are picked from the best of the best after pass outs, and immediately start being tested for endurance, stress management and ingenuity.
The Rangers Strike Force takes 63 days to train while the training for Special Forces lasts for six months. One of the major differences between the two is that Rangers are trained by Americans and the Special Forces by the British.
Contrary to what many think, the Special Forces are not a rapid deployment unit; the secret of their success is intensive preparation. They are well versed with details about power grids, water supplies, crops, the economy, roads and local politics. They plan, debate, and rehearse both combat and follow-on operations.
During training, the Rangers spend three weeks in Isiolo, a similar amount of time in the high-altitude Mount Kenya region, then move to the humid coastal military base at Manda Bay.
They train alongside such crack units such as Britain’s Special Air Service (SAS), Sayaret Matkal of the Israel Defence Force (IDF) and US Rangers.
Some of the training activities can traumatise even the bravest. According to KDF sources, they are trained to continue fighting without retreat while remaining flexible even under the harshest conditions.
Their training entails lessons in survival, exposing the men to pressure and suffering while making them masters of disguise, deceit and sabotage.
The special operators are also on to counter-terrorism; urban, desert, mountain and bush combat; and the handling of a wide range of weapons, from light infantry arms to heavy artillery.