We destroyed Mbarara and Masaka towns in revenge - Brig Lupembe
Posted Friday, May 16 2014 at 23:00
Brig Gen Burton Richard Lupembe, also known as Mwilipanga Richard Lupembe in the Tanzanian military circles, was preparing to go to Namibia as part of a United Nations peacekeeping force when the Ugandan army invaded Tanzania. The 71-year-old was a staff officer to Gen Msuguri who headed the whole operation to invade Uganda. Saturday Monitor’s Henry Lubega caught up with him at Msasani Beach in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
By the time Uganda invaded Tanzania in 1978, I was a Lieutenant Colonel, commanding a battalion and had been chosen to command a contingent of the Tanzania Peoples Defence Forces (TPDF) that was preparing to go to Namibia under the UN peacekeeping mission.
While at Makambaku base where I was preparing my battalion, I got a message from the defence headquarters asking me to go to Mbeya.
With help from the local business community, I mobilised transport to Mbeya where I was told we were to be airlifted to a destination only known by the pilots.
As I waited for the airlifting from Mbeya, I suspected that the Namibia deployment had been cancelled.
We were airlifted to Tabora, where I met Gen Kiwelu who was the chief planner and commander of the forces preparing to force the Ugandan army out of Tanzanian territory.
My battalion moved with the rest of the troops under Gen Kiwelu’s overall command to Bukoba.
At Bukoba, orders came that we prepare ourselves for war against the invaders from Uganda who had taken over the Kagera Salient.
Soon upon arrival in Bukoba, I was reassigned from a battalion commander to brigade staff officer in the 206th Brigade under General Silas Mayunga which took the western axis to capture Mbarara town.
My responsibility was to write orders for the different battalions. I was assisting the commander to prepare the orders and brief the battalion commanders on what was to be done.
The war was fought in phases and so was the planning. When the war started on December 4, 1979, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere’s instructions were to first liberate Kagera.
This was the first phase of the war which was completed by early January 1979.
Having finished the first phase, there were demands by some forces, for instance Milton Obote’s group in Tanzania, others in Lusaka, Nairobi, and some from Europe that asked us to help them remove Idi Amin from power.
With the plea from these different groups to help get rid of Amin, Mwalimu Nyerere agreed on Phase Two of the war which was to go up to Masaka and Mbarara.
The Ugandan groups in exile that had pleaded with Nyerere were to be responsible for the fighting once the two towns had fallen.
The capture of the two towns was aimed at two things; one was to gauge Amin’s actions and the other was to destroy and do as much damage to the towns of Mbarara and Masaka as Ugandan troops had done to Kagera Salient, when Amin invaded it.
When my brigade reached there, we really did some destruction. While in Masaka the buildings that were missed by the artillery were destroyed by other explosives when the TPDF got there.
It is difficult to say whether the FRONASA boys led by Museveni were good or not because we had to build a big force.
To do that on the side of TPDF we had to use the people we called Mgambo.
These people had been trained to defend our country and when the need arose to fight, they were called upon.
We also had people from the National Service; they were joined by a team from the police and the prisons in the war against Amin.
While heading to Mbarara, we knew of the Simba unit, but we didn’t know there was a river passing nearby the town.
Our plan was to encircle Mbarara, then a member of FRONASA told us there was a river and we could not encircle the town.
It was decided we enter the town across the bridge but it had to be secured first before the rest of the troops crossed over.