By NYAMBEGA GISESA
At 4pm on Saturday of September 21, the first team from the Kenya Defence Forces Special Regiment made up of 40 Ranger Strike Force, 30 Special Forces and 20 Parachute Battalion, was deployed to Westgate Mall.
The KDF men who also included men from Lang’ata Barracks’ the Maroon Commandos, 75 Artillery Battalion men based in Embakasi and men from Moi Airbase in Eastleigh, came armed to destroy and extinguish.
They carried powerful guns, had anti-tank weapons, thousands of rounds of ammunition and helicopters hovering over the air
According to scenes from CCTV footage, their first stop was on the first floor of the besieged mall.
Most costly blunder
The KDF officers are seen entering the Ereta Jewellery store, and checking for the terrorists. Despite the danger, one even ventures to check whether the safe of the store is open.
After leaving Ereta Jewellery store, the soldiers then headed out towards Nakumatt Supermarket.
Sources within the General Service Unit and the police, have told The Standard on Saturday that this is when things allegedly went haywire and began to border on total embarrassment. The sources allege that the soldiers opened fire upon officers from the Recce Squad-perhaps because the officers were out of uniform, they were mistaken for terrorists.
Being on a Saturday afternoon, when most of them were off duty, some of the GSU officers at the time arrived at Westgate not well uniformed and prepared for the mission.
According to officers from the Unit, they had no time for reconnaissance and no time for a mock exercise, a necessity before embarking on a dangerous mission. However, the most costly blunder of the evening was the officers arrived at the scene without a senior to provide leadership.
The Recce Squad was being led by Inspector James Maamiri. When KDF shot at them, the GSU men scampered for safety and then an exchange of words and pointing of guns between members of the police forces’ most elite unit, Recce Squad, and its equal in the military, Rangers Strike Force, took place. The following is a transcribed except from an ugly exchange between the military and police.
“Stop talking too much (keep your mouth shut),” one soldier shouts at a GSU man who replies with the abuse, “Your mother.” In the footage, an angry GSU officer curses “The military shot us. F*** them.” It’s apparently during this confrontation that Constable Martin Kithinji was shot dead and another GSU man in the leg.
“…The reports of misunderstanding between different security agencies involved in the operation points to a bigger problem of inefficiency and poor standards of training that affects professionalism,” Major Mohamed Wato, a former army officer who is now a security professional, wrote in an opinion piece. According to security expert Simiyu Werunga, whatever happened that day was unfortunate.
“It would have been prudent for the Special Forces to offer cover fire for the Recce Company in order to accomplish the mission,” Werunga, a former military captain, says.
This did not happen and instead there was a tussle over command control of the operation forcing Recce Squad officers to withdraw from their position and offer cover fire to the Kenya Defence Forces.
The police were also kept at a far distance from the mall by KDF, not only revealing further cracks in the chain of command, but also keeping crucial information from one arm of the security forces involved in the Westgate rescue mission.
Literally chased from the scene of action, where they were only instructed to keep the perimeter, still anxious to keep in the loop, the police started chasing for information.
The first place they arrived at was at a house in Hurlingham, located about 10 kilometers west of Westgate. Whereas this was happening, a backup Digital Video Recorder or DVR feed, was being streamed offsite from the mall to the location, where they soon established a command centre.