Monday, July 15, 2024

Khama breaks silence on shoot to kill policy

Former President Lt Gen Ian Khama this week shrugged off allegations that he told a Kalahari Conservation Society (KCS) committee meeting in January 1991 that the Botswana Defence Force had adopted a policy of “not arresting poachers” as they had found it to be “a waste of time”.The meeting was allegedly attended by among other the late Louis Nchindo, former Minister Neo Moroka, former Permanent Secretary (Ministry of Wildlife) Neil Fitt, and conservationist Richard White. Khama told the Sunday Standard that the shoot-to-kill application was not a decision that had anything to do with the NGO Kalahari Conservation Society. The former president also denied that the BDF ordered civilians out of the Linyanti area in 1988 in order to carry out an anti-poaching sweep. He claimed that at the time the BDF was not involved in anti-poaching operations.

Khama’s version contradicts that of Richard White then District Officer in the area. Richard White told the Sunday Standard that, “In October 1988, the BDF ordered all civilians to leave the Linyanti and Kwando areas and conducted an “anti-poaching” sweep. At this time, the BDF delivered the bodies of three persons to the mortuary at Maun hospital. BDF personnel told the mortuary staff that the three had been killed on an” anti-poaching” operation. All three had been shot in the back and the bodies were stripped naked and all means of identification removed. One of the bodies was of a boy estimated by a doctor to be about 12 years old while another was of another boy estimated by the same doctor to be about 15.

Richard White’s version is confirmed by Dan Henk, a former military attaché at the United States Embassy in Gaborone. In his book, The Botswana Defense Force in the Struggle for an African Environment Henk traverses the breadth and depth of BDF’s anti-poaching operations. He wrote that in October 1987, the late President Sir Ketumile Masire responded to wildlife poaching by deploying a secretive commando squadron of the BDF.“This was a special forces unit with unique skills in small unit operations, tracking, patrolling, and ambush. Khama seems to have conceived this role in collusion with the commander of the Commando Squadron at the time, Major (later Brigadier) Otisitswe B. Tiroyamodimo,” writes Henk referring to Lt Gen Ian Khama.

It emerges from the book that Khama was crucial in the deployment of this squadron but in 1987 when these operations started, Lieutenant General Mompati Merafhe was the BDF commander, the book however whitewashes Merafhe out of BDF’s anti-poaching story.In the book’s introduction, Henk gives a vivid description of this formidable tag team (commandoes and trackers) at work in a story that confirms Richard White’s version of the three suspected poachers who were killed by the BDF. Henk’s version of the incident which is based on interviews with among others the BDF commander of the Commando Squadron at the time, Major (later Brigadier) Otisitswe B. Tiroyamodimo, states that, under the command of Lieutenant T. S. Makolo, a commando team and a Bushman tracker were patrolling south of the Linyanti River in the Chobe National Park. Picking up the spoor of three poachers and under the guidance of the tracker, the patrol carefully followed the poachers for hours, then …

“Suddenly, a small figure dropped from a treetop observation post and opened fire with an automatic rifle. Poachers resting in a nearby hideout scattered in all directions. The lieutenant quickly deployed his troops, returned fire, and swept through the poachers’ camp. When the shooting stopped, three poachers lay dead, including the lookout. Without pausing, the patrol initiated a relentless chase of the fleeing poachers, four of whom managed to escape across the border into neighboring Namibia, barely ahead of their pursuers. Later, inspecting the abandoned poaching camp, Makolo and his men found two weapons: the dead sentry’s Kalashnikov assault rifle and a bolt-action hunting weapon. They also found the tusks of two elephants along with game meat being cooked for an evening meal. Other abandoned items pointed to the poachers’ origin in the country of Zambia.”

Defending the controversial shoot to kill policy, Lt Gen Khama told the Sunday Standard this week that, “the shoot to kill policy is an operational procedure adopted by most countries and their security forces around the world, and applied depending on the situation at hand. It is not unique to Botswana,” Khama says.“An example of such a situation is where armed officers assigned to protect a VIP are confronted by an assassin, will draw their weapons and shoot to kill the assailant to save the life of the VIP. They are normally trained to fire two rounds in quick succession at the attacker to make sure he goes down and poses no more threat as he would if wounded.”The former President and Army Commander also drew an analogy between the situations the BDF anti-poaching unit find themselves in, and that of a civilian who finds themselves in a kill or be killed situation. He says other similar situations include those of terrorists, and armed robbers among others.“Poachers who cross the international boundary to shoot wildlife and those who protect them (wildlife) are obviously risking their lives because no soldier when confronted by an armed aggressor anywhere will wait to be shot at first when it his duty to protect himself, others and our national resources.”

Khama says there is no poacher who does not know that in Botswana the wildlife is protected by the BDF who are armed and will open fire to defend what they are deployed to do. Khama, a staunch conservationist, says in the past following incidents of exchanges of fire with poachers he would urge the authorities in the countries where the poachers come from to educate and emphasize to their people the risks they are taking crossing the border armed and with the intention to kill Botswana soldiers. “Do not confuse ‘shoot to kill’ with ‘shoot on sight’,” Khama advices. “Shoot to kill is only done in unique circumstances and when one usually has a split second to decide on the threat to themselves and others and is carried out based on instructions and training on orders for opening fire and rules of engagement,” Khama explains.“Shoot on sight is indiscriminate and without consideration of the necessity whether to open fire or not. It has never been the practice in the BDF.” Khama insists if the shoot on sight policy really existed the BDF wouldHave short local rapper when ATI when showed up unannounced at the State House.“

He was not a threat to them or what they were guarding. Other armed BDF are deployed around the country every day such as at Covid-19 roadblocks, and camps etc, where they encounter people all the time but don’t shoot anyone.” He says the shoot-to-kill application was not a decision that had anything to do with the NGO Kalahari Conservation Society. He also dismissed allegations that the BDF once ordered civilians out of Linyanti in a clean-up campaign against poachers.“The BDF did not order people out of the Linyanti area in 1988 because it was not engaged in anti-poaching operations at that time. The BDF never carried coffins around with them.”Khama would not comment specifically on the recent shooting of Namibians. “I cannot comment as to whether the recent incident which resulted in the deaths of Namibians as reported was justified or not because I do not know the facts around what took place,” He said.

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