Skip to main content

Police: 38 Kenyan officers killed in ambush involving cattle rustlers

By David McKenzie and Lillian Leposo
updated 8:17 PM EST, Tue November 13, 2012
An injured Kenyan policeman recounts the attack in Baragoi, Kenya on Saturday.
An injured Kenyan policeman recounts the attack in Baragoi, Kenya on Saturday.
  • The officers were trying to recover stolen cattle, a security official says
  • The Turkana and Samburu tribes have engaged in tit-for-tat cattle rustling operations
  • It's not unusual to see cattle herders armed with automatic rifles
  • The security minster says the government is trying to reconcile the two communities

Nairobi, Kenya (CNN) -- In the worst single incident for Kenyan police in living memory, 38 officers were killed in northern Kenya over the weekend by heavily armed cattle rustlers, according to injured police reservists who were on the scene.

Local media reports put the number at between 37 and 42 dead. Internal Security Minister Katoo Ole Metito would not give a total figure on how many police officers had died.

Read more: Attack on Sunday school leaves child dead, others wounded

The police officers were part of an operation to recover cattle belonging to the Samburu tribe that had been stolen by the Turkana tribe, according to the minister. They were ambushed in a valley when a large group of Turkana fired on police, leaving dozens dead and many injured.

The Turkana and Samburu, both pastoralist groups, have frequently engaged in tit-for-tat cattle rustling operations over many years. Villages in the region are heavily fortified by residents, and it's not unusual to see cattle herders armed with automatic rifles.

Child hunger 'silent tsunami' in Kenya
Grammy winner sees Kenya's nightmare
Obama's ancestral home celebrates

In the most recent incident, Turkana raided the Samburu last month and took a large amount of cattle, according to the internal security ministry.

Read more: Kenya military reports success in Somali fight

The Kenyan government intervened and gave an ultimatum for the Turkana to return the cattle last Friday, or it would respond with force. The Turkana did not meet the deadline, prompting the police operation that ended in tragedy.

Both Turkana and Samburu leaders have frequently asked for more security in the region from the government. They say the police are outmanned and outgunned.

While visiting wounded officers who had been airlifted to a Nairobi hospital, the minister said the government is addressing those complaints.

Read more: Is Barack Obama still Kenya's favorite son?

"The ratio of police to civilians in the country is far below the international standards, but we are looking for more resources to bring balance," he said, claiming the government is working to reconciling both communities.

Some wounded police reservists recovering at the hospital weren't so sure.

"Reconciliation will only work if the Turkana are forcibly removed from Samburu territory. That's the only solution," said Ledemiano Lenankani, a Samburu reservist.

Lekirnyei Masianai, another reservist, agreed. "There is no room for reconciliation. I'll not put down my weapon while my community is being attacked."

Part of complete coverage on
updated 10:26 AM EST, Wed February 6, 2013
Advocates say the exam includes unnecessarily invasive and irrelevant procedures -- like a so-called "two finger" test.
updated 7:09 PM EST, Tue February 5, 2013
Supplies of food, clothing and fuel are running short in Damascus and people are going hungry as the civil war drags on.
updated 1:01 PM EST, Wed February 6, 2013
Supporters of Richard III want a reconstruction of his head to bring a human aspect to a leader portrayed as a murderous villain.
updated 10:48 AM EST, Tue February 5, 2013
Robert Fowler spent 130 days held hostage by the same al Qaeda group that was behind the Algeria massacre. He shares his experience.
updated 12:07 AM EST, Wed February 6, 2013
As "We are the World" plays, a video shows what looks like a nuclear attack on the U.S. Jim Clancy reports on a bizarre video from North Korea.
The relationship is, once again, cold enough to make Obama's much-trumpeted "reset" in Russian-U.S. relations seem thoroughly off the rails.
Ten years on, what do you think the Iraq war has changed in you, and in your country? Send us your thoughts and experiences.
updated 7:15 AM EST, Tue February 5, 2013
Musician Daniela Mercury has sold more than 12 million albums worldwide over a career span of nearly 30 years.
Photojournalist Alison Wright travelled the world to capture its many faces in her latest book, "Face to Face: Portraits of the Human Spirit."
updated 7:06 PM EST, Tue February 5, 2013
Europol claims 380 soccer matches, including top level ones, were fixed - as the scandal widens, CNN's Dan Rivers looks at how it's done.
updated 7:37 AM EST, Wed February 6, 2013
That galaxy far, far away is apparently bigger than first thought. The "Star Wars" franchise will get two spinoff movies, Disney announced.
updated 7:27 PM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
It's an essential part of any trip, an activity we all take part in. Yet almost none of us are any good at it. Souvenir buying is too often an obligatory slog.