The army yesterday said both Uganda and Burundi have lost less than 500 soldiers in Somalia in the last six years. The army’s revelation ended years of an unexplained secretiveness which has shrouded the issue of casualties suffered by the respective troop contingents serving under the African Union peace support mission in the strife-torn country.
It, however, remains unclear exactly how many Ugandan troops have died in Somalia since 2007 when UPDF set foot in Mogadishu.
Yesterday’s revelation came as a response to comments attributed to the Kenyan deputy Foreign Affairs Minister, Mr Richard Onyonko. Mr Onyonko reportedly told a forum on Somalia in Nairobi on Wednesday that Uganda alone has lost 2,700 soldiers.
Losing 2,700 soldiers would suggest that, on average, Uganda has been losing at least 400 soldiers every year in Somalia, a figure UPDF spokesperson, Col. Felix Kulayigye, said is incorrect.
“That’s not correct because both Burundi and Uganda have lost less than 500, including the injured,” he said.
Col. Kulayigye described Mr Onyonko’s remarks as unfortunate and asked why the Kenyan minister would give “wrong figures”.
“His remarks should be treated with the contempt they deserve. What role does he have to talk about the Ugandans who have died in Somalia?” he asked, “In whose interest is he making these remarks?”
Amisom troops came under particularly intense attacks from al-Shabaab militants in 2009 and 2010. It is during this wave that the Deputy Force Commander, Maj. Gen. Juvenal Niyoyunguriza of the Burundian army, was killed in a suicide bombing at the Force headquarters.
Mr Onyonko is reported to have revealed that Kenya Defence Forces, which deployed in Somalia in October last year, has lost 36 soldiers.
Unlike Uganda, Kenya has been relatively open about its activities in Somalia, holding regular media briefings about progress of operations on the ground.
According to the memorandum of understanding between troop contributing countries and African Union, the dead are supposed to be announced by the individual countries. But Uganda’s army has steadfastly declined to make public the death toll even in the face of appeals by Parliament for the information.
Uganda, Kenya, Burundi, Djibouti and Sierra Leone have deployed in Somalia to help pacify the Horn of Africa state that plunged into civil war in 1991.
Uganda was the first to deploy in Mogadishu on March 6, 2007, followed by Burundi, Djibouti and Kenya.