Why Galamba-Bireembo trek was strategic in Bush War – Museveni

Monday January 6 2020

Relief. People welcome NRA soldiers, including

Relief. People welcome NRA soldiers, including Gen Elly Tumwine and Yoweri Museveni, during the Bush War. COURTESY PHOTOS 

“An armed conflict has four levels: a war, campaign, operation and a battle. All these levels can either be short, such as the six-day war of 1967 between Israel and the Arabs or protracted, such as the 30-year war between the Protestants and the Roman Catholics in Germany, the 100-year war between England and France, World War I and World War II.
In the case of Uganda, the second resistance war started on February 6, 1981, and major battles ended with the capture of Kampala on January 26, 1986. Within the five-year war, there were four campaigns, a number of operations and many battles.
A war means the whole conflict, from the beginning to the end, in this case from Kabamba on February 6 to Kampala on January 26, 1986.
The campaigns were four:

- The gun-raising campaign from February 6, 1981, to September 1985, when, in addition to the 4,000 rifles we had captured from the UNLA, we received the 5,000 rifles from Mwalimu [Julius Nyerere] with 1 million rounds of ammunition and the 800 rifles we had received from [Muammar] Gaddaffi, with 800,000 rounds of ammunition.
- The second campaign was to open the second front in the Rwenzori Mountains, starting in March 1985, until the battle of Rubona in June 1985.
-The third campaign was the expansion that started in September 1985 with the massive recruitment of fighters from western Uganda that boosted NRA from 4,000 fighters to 20,000 (fresh recruits and UNLA captured soldiers being integrated into the Resistance War).
All these three campaigns were within the strategic defensive phase - when the resistance was on the defensive but fighting offensive battles and operations within the strategic defence.

- The fourth campaign coincided with the opening of the strategic counter-offensive on January 17, 1986. Our forces, advancing on five axises (routes) swept towards Kampala in the centre and Masindi and Karuma in the west.
The axises were: Kampala-Masaka road (1st Battalion - Pecos Kuteesa and Mugisha Fred, 5th Battalion - Kashaka and Kashillingi); Kinoni-Mpigi road and Mityana road axis- 7th Battalion ─Matayo Kyaligonza and Stanley Muhangyi; Hoima Road axis 11th Battalion Chefe Ali; Bombo road-blocking ─ 13th Battalion Ivan Koreta; the Western Axis Hoima-Masindi ─ David Tinyefuuza Peter Kerim, with the 19th Battalion.

The 3rd Battalion under Lumumba was in reserve with me and Saleh, the 21st Battalion was in reserve at Kasese and the 9th Battalion was in reserve at Kabale-Kigezi. The 9th Battalion was under Julius Kihaanda and the 21st Battalion was under Benon Tumukunde in Kasese, watching the suspected moves of Mobutu in Congo. The 15th Battalion, under Samson Mande, was created. I am referring to these forces as battalions, but, in reality, they were regiments equivalent to two of our present day battalions of 736 persons each. One of them, the 19th Battalion under Peter Kerim, was 1,900 fighters. The others were, on the average, 1,500 persons. We had done this deliberately so as to economise the leadership resources (commanding officers) that were not so plentiful. If you have one good CO, why do you only put 5 companies, 146 persons each, under him? Why does he not provide leadership for 10 or more companies? This battalion will then, do work for 2/3 of a brigade (3 battalions) but under the leadership of the one good leader.

This trek, therefore, is just a portion of one of the operations - the Kabamba operation. This was within the campaign of gun-raising. The operation started on December 22, 1985, from Sebuguzi involving 1,500 fighters - armed and unarmed. I personally oversaw this operation, with Saleh as the operational commander of the force. This was the Mobile Brigade comprised of the 1st, 3rd and 5th battalions, with a lot of commandos (unarmed fighters).

Kabamba assault
The Kabamba III was aimed at capturing the rifles that Fronasa had handed to the UNLA following the merger after the defeat of Idi Amin in 1979. Twice, we had unsuccessfully tried to capture these guns - on February 6, 1981 and, again, in Safari - 50 of 1983 - April-May. On February 20, 1984, we had successfully captured the 760 rifles of Masindi and a lot of other weapons, boosting the gun level of the NRA from 600 guns to about 1,400. On June 30, 1984, we had attacked Hoima and got another 60 or so rifles. We were now aiming for the guns of Kabamba.

The reconnaissance had been done smartly by Mugume-Chagga, assisted by an insider, Tindibakyira. I, however, decided to postpone the operation from about November, 1984, to a later date because one of the cadres, Katabarwa, came with Eriya Kategaya and Ivan Koreta, from Nairobi and told me that he had established a peace dialogue with his military college-mate, Kagata Namiti, along with Paulo Muwanga who was the Vice President of Obote. He wanted us to allow him to pursue the peace talks in Kampala.


My question to him was: “Why Kampala? Why not Nairobi or elsewhere?” Katabarwa, however, was very firm that he was sure there would be no harm to him even in Kampala. Of course, I also had a lingering idea about the futility of even the confused UPC killing a peace envoy. It would not affect the struggle at all. Why would anybody do it? I, therefore, allowed Katabarwa to go to Kampala and also came with a very large force, 1,500 that we had prepared to attack Kabamba, to Galamba to be near Kampala so that Katabarwa could come back and consult us from nearby. Galamba is only 17 miles from Kampala if you use the main road. We must have arrived there at the beginning of December 1984. We waited for a number of days without either Katabarwa or Kyaligonza, who was the one guiding those who went to or came from Kampala, showing up. Instead, on December 10, 1984, we were attacked by a UNLA force and we repulsed it.

We shifted to a new position but in the same area, to an area below a two class-room primary school of that time known as Migadde Primary School. It was there, one morning that Kyaligonza turned up and told us that Katabarwa had been killed. There was, therefore, no point in us continuing to stay in that area. As we were preparing to leave that area and head for Kabamba, we were attacked by a large UNLA force. They could not enter the camp but they camped at the school above us. I did not want to continue with a protracted battle for positions where we wasted ammunition without profit. The battle had gone on for about two days but in the night, the whole force pulled out and by morning, the long column was marching through the Masuliita peninsula, in the area of Bbaale and ended in Ssebuguzi, near Kapeeka.

There we stayed for a day or two as we prepared for the long walk to attack Kabamba. The long walk started on the afternoon of December 22, 1984. The large force started crossing the swollen Mayanja river at about 1400 hours, but could not all cross until 0020 hours on December 23. The lap we had planned to cover in the night hours was supposed to be up to Kyamusisi in Mityana District where we had our small detach under John Kazoora. It was only by 0800 hours that we entered Kiryookya Village and turned to head for Kyamusisi. We had crossed Hoima Road at the Matte junction... We were always monitoring Obote’s military radio-network and they started saying that a large guerrilla force, led by Museveni in person, is heading for somewhere.
The UPC started saying that we were running away to Congo, etc. I could, however, not take chances. We arrived at Kyamusisi at about 1200 hours on December 23, 1984. This time, unlike 1983, we had planned better. We had pre-dumped maize grain and beans at the stop-over points. Soldiers did not have to carry the grain on the march.

Nevertheless, given the exposure by the daylight march and the soldier who had been captured by the UPCs, I decided not to take chances. I decided to split the force into two. Seven hundred soldiers, all armed, had to march in the night and attack Kabamba by surprise at dawn as originally planned, while the larger force of 800 fighters, only 40 per cent of them armed, would march in the opposite direction, in daylight hours, to confuse the enemy. Possibly on Christmas Day, Saleh’s force left by early evening and started on their march by night. We stayed in the camp for one day. Then the following day, we started walking, by daylight hours, towards the Lukoola, the River Mayanja valley. We crossed Temanakali, between Nakwaaya and Bukomero and spent the night at Kamugabo.

Loyalty. A NRA soldier salutes President
Loyalty. A NRA soldier salutes President Museveni during the Liberation War.

The secretive march
The following day, we marched by day and camped at Kembogo. The operational commander of this force was Ahmed Kashiilingi.
On December 28, 1984, a force from the UNLA in Bukomero attacked us. We repulsed them. I was now happy that our deception was working. On December 30, I moved the force to our old site of Kagaari, in Dr Sebuliba’s farm, where we camped. Around 1400 hours on New Year’s Day, 1985, the good news came through our usual informer, the UNLA radio-operators. A military radio message was sent that a powerful enemy force had attacked Kabamba barracks, overrun it and were still there. The force from Mubende had made repeated counterattacks but had been repulsed. I immediately called a Master-Parade of our force of 800 and conveyed the good news. I, however, decided that it was late and decided to start the march to the west, the following day, January 2, 1985. We moved out of Lukoola, climbed the Ssingo hills on both sides of Hoima Road and ended up in Kyamusisi. Did we cover the distance in one day? I do not clearly remember. However, on Bulaga Hill, I fainted but Dr Besigye gave me re-hydration salts and I resumed the march.

Eventually, we established radio link with Saleh. After successfully attacking Kabamba, he had marched west towards Kyaaka, crossed the Mubende-Fort Portal road at Kyegyegwa, fought battles with UNLA at Hapuuyo and continued marching. We now decided to link up in the Bugangaizi area, instead of using the Lake Wamala route that Saleh had used on the way out. Day and by night we went through Bukuya, Butoloogo, crossed Hoima-Kakumiro road at Nkoondo and camped at Kasambya Sub-county headquarters on the afternoon of January 8, 1985. There, through radio communication, we agreed with Saleh to link up at Birembo, only 8 miles from Kasambya Sub-county headquarters. The link was effected on January 9, 1985. The Kabamba operation/battle had been almost as successful as the Masindi one. A total of 650 rifles, mortars, machine-guns, ammunition, etc., had been captured. It was another historic victory for the NRA.

Saleh’s force, having marched by night, starting with the Christmas Day of 1984, had arrived at Kabamba, having walked along the railway line, on the morning of the first day of the New Year, 1985. Seeing the huge extended-line of the NRA fighters, the UNLA soldiers had fled. The battle was now left to one soldier, who entered the underground armoury of Kabamba and tried to imitate the heroic action of the Tanzania NCO that had blocked us with machine-gun fire on February 6, 1981. Since I had been in all those efforts, I now designed a medicine for that eventuality. Of the 100 land-mines we had got from Gaddaffi in 1981, only four were remaining.
I decided to use one of them for the strategic task of liberating the guns Fronasa had handed in at Kabamba in the 1979/80 unification of the armed groups.

Anticipating the repetition of the Tanzanian Corporal’s actions, I decided to weaponise one of the cattle-keepers techniques. This is the technology of ekiteeko. Ekiteeko is a fibre mesh made out of the tough Kaamba (sisal fibres). The sisal fibres and ropes (emigoye, ebitsibo) are very tough. It is the ekiteeko (the sisal mesh) that holds milk-pots, ebishaabo (milk gourds the big ghee-churning ones), ebirere (the smaller gourds for yorghurt or skimmed milk. It is this “small-armed” (nyabukono bukye) but with a lot of strength that I turned to so as to solve the problems of a possible machine-gunner in the under-ground armoury of Kabamba. Get one of the Gaddaffi land mines, use a car battery to create an electric current, put an electric detonator in the land mine, put the armed land-mine in the ekiteeko, from the top of the armoury lower the mine to the mouth of the armoury (the opening) and electrically detonate it. It will stun the underground warrior and our group will assault. Apparently, my military field engineering (using explosives) worked even better. The poor fellow died by concussion. I had not anticipated that extreme result.

Therefore, the underground armoury was overcome in that way and the weapons were safely got out. The UNLA counter-offensive, now led by Ogole and Odwar, tried to make Saleh drop the guns by incessant attacks: Hapuuyo and Kabaamba itself. The inconvenience for the Saleh group was that they were heavy – laden, not with sins as the Church hymn goes, but with the means of liberation because they were the fighters to repulse Ogole and Odwar and at the same time carry the heavy loads of weapons. Their double-burden: fight and carry.
The urgent tasks now were to relieve the fighters of the burden of carrying and to expand the fighting force by arming the unarmed (the commandoes). Hence, the link up at Birembo. When we joined with the Salehs below Bireembo Primary School, I did not like their camp-site in the valley – on the banks of Nkusi River.... I ordered that we move out of the valley and camp at Bireembo Primary School where the road was wide and the Bulungi-bwansi roads were also wide and open enough.

On January 10, the force moved out of the valley and started camping at the school. At around 10:00 hours, however, Ogole and Odwar launched a heavy artillery bombardment and a ground-attack. We repulsed the attacks but the artillery killed three of our fighters and injured another two who died later. The battle had gone on for the whole day. Some of the shells hit near my trench. One of my close body guards was injured. In the night, however, we successfully pulled out and by morning, we were quite far, heading for Nkooko and Ntwetwe. We walked the whole day of January 11, went through Nkooko in the night and entered Ntwetwe where one of our supporters Kigongo─had a lot of maize grain – belonging to their cooperative society. I paid him for the whole maize, but told him to report to the UNLA, when we left, that the guerrillas had locked him up and grabbed his maize. The deception worked.
Our supporters got their payment, we got the grain and the UNLA did not penalise our supporters because they believed the story. The UNLA came on our track towards Nkooko and were aimlessly shelling the forests of the area.

At night, I think, on January 12, we moved out of Ntwetwe, crossed some swamps, marched until daylight, continued marching, crossed a river called Mpongo and laid a big ambush on Bukwiiri - Ntwetwe Road, where we destroyed another UNLA convoy, capturing more guns. Ogole came with a helicopter ─ a 206 Agusta-Bell where-upon we saluted him with gunfire. His helicopter fled. Eventually, we crossed Hoima Road at Rwamagaari and re-entered Lukoola. Ogole and Odwar had lost the battles and the operation. We eventually camped at Nyambiindo and re-organised the force creating the battalions that pushed the UPC regime to its evening hours. The battalions, now reinforced with more rifles were: 1st Battalion-Pecos and Mugisha; 3rd-Lumumba; 5th - Kashaka and Kashillingi; 7th - Kyaligonza and Muhangyi; 9th - Kihanda; and 11th ─ Chefe Ali.

The equipment
I think, by this time, each of these battalions had four companies, each coy with 75 rifles. Therefore, each battalion had 300 rifles. The six of them, therefore, had 1,800 rifles. These did not include the rifles of the zonal units of: Black Bomber (Abdul Naser), Mondlane, Luttamaguzi, Kabalega, Ngoma, Nkrumah and Kiwanguzi. By now, there were about two companies of the High Command unit, the bodyguards of CHC, the chairperson of the High Command. Ogole, again, flew over us and this time, we almost brought him down. After re-organising, we marched the whole length of the Lukoola, passed Kansiri, climbed the Luanda hills, above present day Ssingo Barracks and entered Kikandwa forest on January 21, 1985.

While in Kikandwa forest, we were again attacked by Erica Odwar, but repulsed him. After about a day, we moved out of the forest at night with our luggage and started walking on the Kirema-Kabele Bulungibwansi road. The UNLA at Namirembe shelled us with Katsyushas and the 120mm mortar. The Katsyushas, obstructed by the Namirembe hill and with the poorly trained UNLA, given their slanting elevation, were firing very far from us, hitting the Semuto area. However, we maintained a steady pace until we got out of range of the mortars, crossed Kabele junction and linked up with the base camp at Kikoko, beyond Migingye.

Therefore, 1984/85 were years of victory for the NRA. The NRA, supported by the people, wrote a glorious story of heroism, sacrifice and skill. Indeed, in June 1985, two other battles took place - Rubona and Kembogo. The latter one, was decisive. The massed UNLA battalions were defeated by the Mobile Brigade, again under Saleh; that marked the end of the Obote regime. The defeated UNLA came to Kampala and overthrew Obote. The Galamba-Bireembo portion has some interesting elements, especially of endurance, manoeuver, concealment, even when there was a leakage; and successful deception to counter the leakage of information....”