Security matters. A number of Special Forces Command operatives were sent to Somalia under African Union in Somalia (AMISOM) to join other Ugandan fighters deployed in the war-ravaged country. They have fought fierce battles with al Shabaab since 2007 and the addition of a specialised team under the Command of Maj. Asaph Mweteise Nyakikuru, has breathed new life into Somali nationals. Risdel Kasasira was in Somalia and interviewed the commander of the Ugandan contingent, Brig. Michael Ondoga, on the prevailing situation in Mogadishu and beyond.
How are the operations against al Shabaab going?
The operations are generally going on well. We are almost in charge of the whole of sector one. We are remaining with three towns of Qoryooley, Balawe and Mahaade. Mahade is in the north. These other two, are in the south west. These are the only two towns that are left to be captured and in the second phase, we will be doing domination operations. We will be dominating areas off the road and mobilising wananchi (civilians)so that we work together like we are partnering with local leaders and farmers so that they can tell us the enemy’s whereabouts.
With accurate information, we can go in, and solve the problem. These three areas that are still hanging will soon fall. Al shabaab is still getting supplies through Balawe. They also collect revenue from this coastal town. Mahaade is in the north of Jawhar. Once we are in Mahaade, then we will be at the eastern boundary of this sector. We will stop there. We recently captured new places like Jannale and others.
In Mogadishu, yes, we have problems but it’s mainly police and local leaders. It’s about the population becoming vigilant and working together with Amisom police. We reinforce them whenever there is a big problem. But we have not had occasions when the threat is beyond our capability. That’s how operations are going.
What will follow after you have captured the remaining areas?
Like I said, we captured Afgooye, Marka, Jannale, Buur hakhaba and others. The next phase is going into areas still controlled by al Shabaab. Some of them are hiding in farms and thickets. But we want to partner with farmers and we are already doing it. With this partnership, they will tell us where these bad guys are hiding and then we go for them. If they can be talked to, we shall talk. Those who cannot and still want to fight, then we go for them. Of course, we do this with Somali National Army (SNA). Many small groups have given themselves to us and we handed them over to SNA.
Will you spread to other sectors after you have finished sector one and what will happen after you captured all the sectors?
We are already working with Burundians in sector three. There is still a lot to do. We will train the local security forces. We will continue assisting police to pacify the city here and then dominating the surrounding areas through patrols and also securing our communication lines. Al Shabaab has now resorted to symmetrical warfare. They can still cause some threat along our routes of supply by laying improvised explosive devices. Therefore, we have to secure our routes and make sure they are safe. There is still a lot to do.
Isn’t symmetrical war more dangerous than having a conventional frontline because the attackers make surprise moves?
Well, the only difference is that with conventional frontline, you have a defined position whereas symmetrical, there is no defined frontline and you are fighting with people who are not clearly identifiable. They dress like civilians and blend in the civilian community. So, it’s not easy. The kind of weapons they carry, weapons that can easily be hidden like grenades, IEDs, vehicles bombs and others - that’s what makes it really complicated but with good intelligence, support from the population, it’s manageable.
Moving away from the frontline, isn’t it demoralising for soldiers who go through this hard life and their allowances are delayed?
I agree with you, there is some delay due to technical reasons because the money has to be processed from African Union and then channelled to the troops’ contributing countries. But these delays are explained to the troops. They know the reasons why sometimes their money delays. It has not affected their morale to the extent of complaining or affecting their work. Therefore, there is no visible effect.
Why do you remove names of soldiers from the payroll when they go home for leave and delay there?
Sometimes it happens. But any entity has got its rules and regulations. According to the rules we are operating in here, if you go home and stay away for 21 days, then you qualify to be disqualified from the mission. We don’t have administrative flights.
We have only logistical flights. Sometimes there is no space to bring in those who go home. This also affects the movement of personnel.
But there are those who go home and they don’t mind calling back to give information back here to explain their delay. Those ones become a problem because we have to account for them.
That’s why I said, you have to inform us. Procedurally, if you inform us, we take care of that. If you don’t inform us, you will be counted absent. But, before we do that, we send a message warning that look here, if you don’t call or return by this time, you will be removed from the payroll. When they don’t, that happens. We normally warn them.
What kind of operations are the Special Forces in Somalia doing and are they deployed at the frontline or they remain behind?
Normal operations are conducted by regular forces. But you may have special scenarios like an enemy hiding somewhere in a narrow place and he can only be dealt with in a special way, say at night by surprising him. These are the kind of special operations we are talking about. Those special scenarios that need night visual equipment and high speed to execute and return. They also carry out night operations in built up areas. They are well trained and have that capability. They can move in quickly and carry out surgical operations and come out.