We have heard reports of cattle rustling resuming after years of peace in the country
It is true only to some extent, which is explainable. There were incidents of people coming from Kenya and others from South Sudan to disturb peace in those areas especially in Kitgum and Moyo districts. The other day, we had to go there to calm the anxiety of the wananchi (locals) in those areas.
In the Northeastern, it has been mainly Turkana herdsmen. Some of them have been here for a long time. They have even assumed Ugandan citizenship. They stay in the area around Kobebe Dam.
There are seasonal ones who come here for pasture and go back when the rains come. This forced us to have a big meeting last year of local leaders from the districts that constitute Karamoja. The Kenyan liaison officer was in attendance.
We listened to people who talked their hearts out. Some, we realised that people from countries with which we share borders should be allowed access provided they abide by the laws be it in Kenya or Uganda.
If you cross to Kenya, abide by the laws of Kenya, if you come to Uganda, do the same. So we said, no arms. No one should come in armed. We even took a harsh decision that even those who had been in Uganda at that time, should all go so that we now start regulating subsequent entry into Uganda and that sent a message.
What has been changed?
Since that meeting and the meetings that followed, at least there has been no serious transgressions of our rules by the Turkana but also we had incidents of our people crossing into Kenya to do what the Turkana were doing. We told our leaders that would now imply that the Turkana would want to revenge.
So we are now working with the leaders at the local level and using the political leadership in Karamoja-the Minister, the local leaders to ensure that we stop this indiscipline.
What we are doing is to ensure that we handle the external aspect of people who come in to cause chaos -- be it the Turkana or the other groups from South Sudan. But also, we need to work on the gaps especially in the North and Northeast-Karamoja by training LDUs (Local Defence Units). We need to do that so that there are enough boots on the ground to deter any of these issues when they arise. The President was there and the same issues were raised and he passed down those directives. We don’t want Karamoja to slide back to where it was.
What about internally -- are the Karamajong rustling cattle from the neighbouring communities?
It is happening but it is not as pronounced as it used to be. That is not to say that it should not be addressed.
What about in West Nile? The other day South Sudanese crossed the border, stole cows and also killed a UPDF soldier
I went there with the Minister of state for Defence. We listened again and deployed troops as a stop gap. But there is need to raise more troops on the ground because the stretch is huge and that can only be done by training LDUs.
We want to ensure discipline because of that huge porous border people are coming in whether they are SPLM in Opposition or SPLM in government because people are the same there.
They tend to abuse our hospitality. They come in and go out. Some of them armed, some of them as refugees. So, we need to sort out all those issues that affect security on that border with South Sudan.
Are you monitoring the current situation in South Sudan across the border and is it still a big concern to you?
We are monitoring. It is far from secure but we are of course working with others within the IGAD effort to pacify that country that is certainly not yet peaceful especially after our exit from the Central African Republic and Yambio in South Sudan.
There are reports that UPDF is still in South Sudan
Not at all. When we left the Central African Republic, we also left that part of South Sudan. So we are back.
What about the ADF (Allied Democratic Force)? What is happening across the border in DR Congo?
ADF is there. It is alive. We attacked them but we did not exploit the aerial strikes with ground troops to do land based exploitation. So, ADF is still there.
We get intelligence that they are active. What we did is to reinforce our border security-all that Western front. That is as far as I can say about ADF.
So, are you saying the attack did not do much to decimate their capacity?
The purpose of that strike was to illustrate to ADF that they were not unreachable. That is the message we wanted to send to ADF and I think they got it because they had reached an extent of thinking that they can do whatever they do with impunity.
We saw reports that you had killed 100 ADF fighters. How did you get to know that you had killed 100 when you were not on ground?
We were taking into account the damage that the arsenal we had in our assets could do. And the Intel was good that the targets were real, they were there and it had many people in one of the camps. So, this was an estimate based on the capabilities we employed and the locations we struck.
We have been seeing conflicting numbers of the ADF strength. How big is the ADF force?
ADF is big. Our estimate was somewhere within the region of 3,000 or so and of course, it has been reinforced with membership from the region.
It is no longer an entirely Ugandan outfit. There are members from all these countries around us and the rallying point is religion because ADF is an Islamist extremist group posturing as the anchor of violent extremism in the region in order to attract support from other international jihadist groups.
Two years ago, UPDF had put the figure between 990 and 1000. How has the number increased to 3,000?
They have been recruiting. They have never stopped recruiting. They have a lot of legroom because of the administrative vacuum within Eastern DRC. They have a lot of legroom to do what they want. And they have been recruiting from here and from across the region.
Is it true they have strong weaponry including anti-aircraft guns?
They have guns. Some of them of course picked from the previous wars. ADF is not a new phenomenon. It has been there for quite sometime. You remember the first attack on us was in 1996 at Mpondwe. But they were never wiped out. So, they had armed caches from that time and they have kept replenishing their weaponry from the wars that were in that area from the forces there and the government. The other day, they attacked the UN force. So, they pick guns from all sorts of forces. They have them.
How big is the ADF threat to Uganda?
The threat is real to the extent that they have freedom of action. Eastern DRC is huge and it affords them the safe haven to train, to prepare and to strike at friendly forces. They engage in poaching, in timber cutting-they are free and that makes us unsafe.
How do you work with your Congolese counterparts across the border?
We share intel and we came close to working together in the last operation where we struck by the air. But we never took it close to working together to send ground troops because we were assured by our Congolese brothers that they could handle that aspect of the operation.
How about the LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army)? Where are they and what are they doing?
The LRA is still there. It still comes to the vacuum in our neighbourrhood. So, they are free to move to Central Africa to poach and do all sorts of things. So they are still there.
Are they a threat to Uganda?
For now, there is no immediate threat they pose because they are far and they had been degraded to an extent that they pose no immediate threat to Uganda.
So, what are they doing now -- from your intelligence?
The activities they are doing are the usual signature activities of abduction, poaching and all those things. So what they are doing is just for survival and nothing else? Yes, it is for survival.
Could you be knowing where Kony and his commanders are?
Kony has always been gallivanting between Kafia king and some areas of the Central African Republic but he does not move a lot.
I think it is to avoid detection. He is worried of being tracked. He does not communicate a lot apart from using couriers. He avoids electronic communication.
Are you still tracking him? Because you and the Americans left? Who does he fear now?
I think he takes precautions. Even if we left…. I told you that we struck the ADF yet we are not in Congo. It is a precaution, he takes.
Is he also recruiting through abductions?
He does. That is his standard operating procedure in Congo and Central Africa.
Where do you see LRA ending?
We see it fizzling out. And if they remain there, they will remain there as a ragtag outfit for plunder and for criminal purposes but not as a threat to Uganda.
But won’t they take advantage of your absence and the Americans’ exit to train now that they are not under pressure?
They are not under pressure but they had been downgraded to an extent that we think they cannot rebuild to threaten our security.
We understand the UN approached UPDF to redeploy in CAR but this time under a UN mission, what is your take?
That was part of the measures to fill the vacuum left by our exit. So we volunteered to train FACA-the Central African Force, provided we were supported in that respect. And then, we volunteered to contribute to the UN Mission. And we committed to initially deploy a company of Special Forces but we have not deployed yet.
So when are you going to deploy?
When the UN actualises the requirement.
Will it be in Bangui or it will be in the eastern Central African Republic where you had been fighting Kony?
We have not finalised details of the deployment.
A company is how many soldiers in this case?
It depends on the doctrine of each country but it is always in the region of 150-200 soldiers.
Away from Central Africa, we understand there are issues in Somalia that are hindering operations. What is happening?
Many things are happening but most of them were addressed in the recent Kampala Summit of the Troop Contributing Countries (TCCs).
There are issues of funding-the mission is underfunded, expectations are high but not matched by the support to achieve those expectations especially the resources to do the job and do it quickly. It was exacerbated by the recent drawdown by the UN Security Council.
First of all, what we have is not enough and the drawdown is a setback. It has now implied that we cannot defend what we already have, and neither can we effectively offend the enemy to degrade his capacity. That is the dilemma we are in and that is why the TCCs met to put across the concerns of the mission, so that with the international partners, we can find a way forward.
The other aspect we have not done well but which is key to the exit of AMISOM is the building of the Somali Army and security forces. We have not made substantial progress in that area yet its key to our exit. If we could do the job effectively as AMISOM, that would be the ideal situation.
Are you saying AMISOM troops are stuck because of the reasons that you gave?
What I can say is that there is a mismatch between what we want to do and what we have by the way of resources to do the job. That’s why we are talking about reviewing our operations.
Our ambition was bigger than the troops we had. You find that you have moved forward but your rear is insecure, it is vulnerable because there are no holding forces which ideally should be coming from the Somalis.
So, as you move forward, your rear is vulnerable. As you take supplies because you are road-bound, you are predictable. The enemy’s weapon of choice are IEDs that degrade your vehicles and manpower every day. So we are looking at all sorts of ways that can minimise attrition on those things that are avoidable. For example, our supplies to Barawe because the concerns we raised, we have now resolved to using a barge from Mogadishu to the port of Barawe.
But also, we are looking at having an airfield in Barawe to airlift once in a while the supplies so that you don’t have to be road-bound all the time. That takes manpower, time, people and risks of road-bound movement. The enemy thinks like you and me. He just waits for you, he knows you must pass here to take food to Barawe. so he plans.
If he can’t attack you in an FOB or these far flung Forward Operating Bases, then he will strike at you on the move. So, some of these can be avoided by getting alternatives which are cost-effective and can afford you the capacity to go after the enemy. So that you are not consumed in supplying troops for a long time.
It’s all those things that we wanted to address in the summit. The summit came up with resolutions that concretely put forward concerns to our partners and we hope they will listen.
Is that the reason why you have remained still for long?
We have not gone beyond where we are.
What happened to the helicopters Americans gave to help you fight al-Shabaab?
They did give us helicopters. Five of them. They are here but we are training pilots. But they are utility. They are not fighting helicopters.
What of these continued attacks on your forward bases?
That is part of the expected hazards. The enemy will attack but if he attacks, you must be prepared enough to fight back. Like we did recently.
Because of our bold decision not to go forward for the sake of going forward, we said let us remain where we are, and even where possible, fold up the FOBs so that we create enough capacity on each FOB if attacked to fight back. That’s what we did recently to the enemy.
They attacked three positions Quoryole, Bulomareer and Golwein.
The others were deceptive because their main effort was at Bulomareer. They came with their standard with their standard procedure of first sending forward Vehicle Bound Improvised Explosive Device [VBIED] to breach the defensive positions and then assault later.
But the vehicles were hit in both Quoryole and Golwein. Even at Bulomareer, two of the vehicles were hit but some managed to enter and those are the ones that killed our soldiers. But the enemy got a bloody nose this time round. By the last count, they were in the region of 76.
What about on the UPDF side, because there are reports that you do not give the real numbers of our soldiers who die in Somalia?
Our numbers were given. We first encountered four fatalities and later others who were injured seriously succumbed to the injuries and died.
How many UPDF soldiers have died ever Uganda deployed in Somalia?
We have lost people. War is not a picnic. But it is also decent to honour those people and their families not to come and talk about how many they were and their identities.
Why do the bereaved families and injured still complain about compensation?
Those complaints are sometimes there. Some of them are caused by some shortfalls in our procedures but also some of them are caused by the sources of this funding. But we try as much as possible to plug the gaps. What happens is that whoever is entitled to compensation is paid eventually. On our part, we are doing everything to refine and hasten the procedure especially preparation of the necessary critical documentation.
What about the delay to pay the soldiers allowances there?
That too is determined by the partners. That money comes from the EU and EU pays AU and they pay us so there are always some delays but eventually the money comes and we pay.
Lastly, the other day the President said the crime preventers will be under UPDF. How are you going to work with them?
The President gave directives and guidance on how to handle them but I think he was looking at mainly the livelihood aspect of these young people because crime prevention is not a profession, it is not a salaried job.
Ideally, everybody should be a crime preventer but he wanted these people to be accountable to some recognised authority.
Accountable in terms of how they transition from where they were, to organised opportunities for livelihood, be it in agriculture, be it in their communities but in an organised way. And then, how do they contribute to security.
Like they were doing under police, but this time, under the umbrella of national service. Because ideally, every able-bodied Ugandan should be a member of the reserve. But we need to be orderly, we need to know these people, to have time and resources for training them.
But as you know we can’t train everyone. Bottom line, is about accountability, leadership for these people, it is about the livelihood.
There is a feeling that crime preventers have bad image and this will tarnish the UPDF image of what they were doing?
We want to allay the fears of the public. They could have misunderstood the message of the President to think that these people were being enlisted into the standing institution of the UPDF, not at all.
His idea is to have somebody evaluate who they are.
They are different categories because some of them are educated, some of them are employed. We came to understand that when we talked to their leadership. If well handled, they can continue to make a positive contribution for their individual wellbeing and for the wellbeing of the country.