Saturday May 17 2014

We destroyed Mbarara and Masaka towns in revenge - Brig Lupembe

Brig Gen Burton Richard Lupembe speaks to the reporter in

Brig Gen Burton Richard Lupembe speaks to the reporter in Dar es Salaam Tanzania recently. Photo by Henry Lubega 

By Henry Lubega

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.

Fortunately, the bridge was not defended by Amin’s men.
We crossed over easily, entered Mbarara and then spread in different places in the town.

We thought the Simba Battalion had run away.
The Brigade Commander Mayunga and I were watching from a distance as our troops marched into Mbarara Town.

From our vantage point, Mayunga, using his binoculars, saw Ugandan soldiers running away from the barracks.

Three days after taking over Mbarara we got more troops and our battalion was rearranged for the mission ahead.

When troops in Masaka started moving to Kampala, we also started moving towards Kasese and later Fort Portal, leaving one battalion behind to guard Mbarara.

While in Kasese, I was posted to the Division head office in Masaka as the Staff Officer replacing Col Kitete who had been appointed to head another newly created brigade.

At the Division headquarters, I was reporting to Msuguri. I would prepare orders for Msuguri to give to the brigade commanders from our military headquarters in Masaka.

When Entebbe fell, the headquarters moved there and that’s where we were based throughout the time TPDF was in Uganda.
We were not housed within State House.

Most of the orders, while we were in Entebbe, were based on the intelligence information we would get through reconnaissance (scouting or exploring- especially to gain information about an enemy or potential enemy).

The other source of intelligence was the local people. They were fed up with Amin. The war should have ended in Masaka and Mbarara.
However, two incidents prompted Phase Three of the war. One was Amin’s remarks when he promised to retaliate on the people of Masaka and Mbarara for having supported the Tanzanians.

“You the people of Masaka and Mbarara have supported the Tanzanians, when they go back you will see,” Amin said.
Mwalimu Nyerere found himself in a tricky position that Amin was threatening to deal with local people and he knew the threats meant killing them.

The other idea of stopping in Masaka was because Mwalimu wanted to talk to the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) to convince them to condemn Amin for having invaded Tanzania.

But the OAU didn’t do so, some had their own issues with Tanzania.
The other cause for the push which annoyed Mwalimu most was when former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi said: “Mwalimu, if you don’t remove your forces, I am coming in to help Amin.”

The threats from Libya, the pressure from the Ugandan exiles in Tanzania and other parts of the world, prompted Mwalimu not to back off but continue with the war.

Phase Three of the war was to go up to Mpigi and leave the Ugandans to take over Kampala.

Before taking over Kampala, there was the Moshi Conference in Tanzania and they formed a government to come and take over after the fall of Amin.

When Mwalimu asked the Ugandan forces to take over Kampala, they pleaded to Mwalimu to finish up the job as they didn’t have the capacity.

Ugandan troops had tanks supplied by Russians who also supported them. On our side, we used the BM-21 rocket launchers (saba saba) to terrorise Amin’s men.

Continues in Sunday Monitor tomorrow