|Written by:||Meshack Masibo|
Anyone who watched the westgate terror attack or any other terror attack or arrest of a dangerous criminal has probably noted the military styled commando unit called the Recce Squad. But where exactly did this squad originate from?
Declassified British intelligence files have given fresh insight into how an elite police unit was formed to protect Kenya’s first President. According to a document dated April 8 1964 and marked “top secret”, the idea to form the special Recce team in the General Service Unit (GSU) was first raised by the Minister for Agriculture Bruce Mckenzie when he approached the British Commonwealth Secretary to help Kenya set up a commando unit to protect Jomo Kenyatta.
The proposal was made without the knowledge of the President, Defence Minister Njoroge Mungai and the Commissioner of Police Sir Richard Catling. When Catling was finally informed about the plan, he described it as of “little merit” since proper and satisfactory arrangements for protecting the President were already in place. He went on to give the following details of security arrangements including two armed “henchmen” accompanying him everywhere, an assistant superintendent of police “in permanent attendance, a chase car with armed officers, police sentry in his Nairobi home, armed “private thugs” living in his compound, and a VHF telephone in his home linked to the police network to report any emergency.
The commissioner also said “further measures are being taken to make it difficult, if not impossible for unauthorised strangers to get near the house in Gatundu.” Mckenzie, who would in later years be revealed as a British spy, was to raise the issue again for the second time on May 6, 1964 when he met another British official, claiming Vice President Jaramogi Oginga Odinga had sent 86 people – mostly from his Luo ethnic group – to Bulgaria for military training to become his praetorian guards on their return
He was also alarmed by the attention the first vice president Jaramogi Oginga had received while visiting Russia, which M15, the British intelligence, claimed was only comparable to the reception the communist state gave Egypt’s second president Gamal Abdel Nasser and Algeria’s founding President Ahmed Ben Bella. On May 14, 1964, a meeting between General Freeland, the Vice Adjutant at the British Ministry of Defence, Kenya’s Commissioner of Police and Mckenzie took place in Nairobi where the three formally agreed that a commando unit of around 60 “loyal Kikuyus” should be formed and placed under the police and not the army.
The three also suggested that the unit should be trained by the British Special Air Services (SAS) and all recruits should be drawn from the GSU. The proposal, however, had to be sent for further deliberation by senior security officials in London. Various scenarios and contingency measures were reviewed in London before the ministry of Defence agreed to commit the SAS instructors to train the bodyguards as detailed in another secret document.
The conclusion in the document was based on two assumptions: That there was an urgent requirement to prepare for an attempted coup instigated by Jaramogi and that the proposed special unit would support a pro-western regime against an anti-western one in Kenya as part of the cold war. In analyzing the two assumptions, the authors of the document found it hard to imagine a violent coup to overthrow Mzee Kenyatta, claiming such a move would be political suicide to the architect.
Observing that the possibility of a coup need only to be considered if either the President himself drove Jaramogi to desperate measures by dismissing him or if Jaramogi felt starved of effective power as vice president and tried to arrange an accident which could be blamed on someone else. Although the M15 cast some doubt on the coup allegations against Jaramogi, they advised against taking any chances.
The document provided the basis for the formation of the special force unit of the GSU and in December 1964 the elite British forces conducted a short study and reconnaissance mission in Kenya to assess the best way to form, operate and train a small special unit in Kenya. The findings were forwarded to Dr Mungai, Kenya’s Defence minister. According to the declassified documents, the setting up of special forces to act as the President’s bodyguards commenced with the arrival of four SAS instructors on February 21, 1965. Shortly after, two platoons of 37 men from the GSU, all of them carefully vetted, were recruited by the Commissioner of Police Sir Catling and put into training for three months.
In 1966, the British Secretary of State proposed to Mzee Kenyatta that another 15 to 20 men from different Kenyan tribes be allowed to serve in the unit. These men were to be hand-picked by ministers loyal to the President and carefully vetted. A further suggestion was made by Mckenzie to the British Secretary of State for someone from SAS to come to Kenya every nine months to give a refresher course to the bodyguards.
Since then, the GSU special unit has expanded gradually into a more diverse and formidable commando team. Today the, General Service Unit (GSU) Recce Squad Company is a Special Forces unit of the GSU comprising of an unknown number of soldiers with its headquarters is located in Ruiru.
Due to its secretive nature particularly on how the squad executes their operations, their number remains unknown but their results speak for their undisputably effective training. The group was first known when it conducted one of its major operations in Kenya; during the Westgate attack by the al-Qaeda affiliated group, the Al Shabaab.
RECCE Squad training is done in Kenya and abroad. These elite soldiers go through highly regarded military training in countries such as the United Kingdom, Israel and America and once trained, this team of soldiers can be compared with the British SAS, America’s Delta Force, France’s EPIGN and the Israel’s Sayaret Matkal. For the team to perform such operations as the one conducted at the Garissa Massacre, the Recce squad trainees attend the basic GSU training school in Embakasi.
Thereafter, those fit for this special unit and emerge as the best in academic and field performance undergo a further 7 month specialized training in VIP protection, handling and detonating explosives, security of vital installations, anti-terrorism, sky marshal (the counter terrorism unit on board commercial flights) and rescue operations.
After completion of the rigorous training, these elite soldiers are deployed in the three different units to provide support to the other field companies of the General Service Unit. The GSU Recce Company units include the Sky Marshal unit. This is the undercover counter terrorist unit on board commercial flights to counter aircraft hijackings.
The second one is the Crisis Response Team. As the name suggests, this team of elite soldiers is always on stand-by to swing into action increase of an operation which has gone out of hand. Last but not least is the Rendition Operation team mostly trained in Israel and America.