At least eight herders are nursing serious injuries at Masalani Hospital in Ijara Sub-County, Garissa County, after they were allegedly tortured by Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) soldiers conducting an operation to flush out al-Shabaab militants from Boni Forest.
The herders, some of whom were brought to the hospital unconscious, claimed the soldiers round them up before ordering them to undress.
They alleged the officers then told them to lie facing down before raining blows and kicks on them. They were also beaten up using clubs.
"We were about to take our cattle to the grazing area when several military planes landed and officers came to where we were and started beating us up while naked. Some of us are lucky to be alive," Mr Abdi Mohamud told the Nation from his hospital bed.
"The officers were asking us whether we have guns. We are wondering why they clobbered us even after telling them we are peace-loving Kenyans," he added.
The herders said they don’t know the whereabouts of their cattle, which they left unattended after their encounter with the officers.
Residents are condemning the soldiers’ brutality and want action taken against those involved.
"It’s unfortunate that those we entrusted with the safety of our children can do this," Mzee Hassan Mohamed said.
Hundreds of herders, most of them from Ijara Sub-County, have been taking their cattle to graze inside Boni Forest.
Garissa-based human rights activists have threatened to sue the Kenya Defence Forces, saying commanders will be held personally liable for their actions.
"It’s barbaric for KDF officers to attack harmless people who are herding their livestock. This is a major blow in the fight against terror. How can you fight someone yet you require his assistance against the enemy?" Northern Forum for Democracy co-ordinator Khalif Abdi posed.
He called on the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights to probe the incident, saying it was not the first time soldiers are accused of torture and harassment.
Mr Abdi appealed to the Independent Medico-Legal Unit to come to the aid of the affected, many of whom, he said, cannot afford specialised treatment.
Contacted for comment, Kenya Defence Forces spokesperson Lt Col Paul Njuguna denied the allegations, saying KDF is currently not doing any operation in the area.
"Let them give you facts about this incident. KDF is currently not doing any operation in that area," he told the Nation on phone.