Uganda army moves to pick up the pieces

Uganda People’s Defence Forces soldiers in Somalia. PHOTO/ATMIS

What you need to know:

  • Brig Felix Kulayigye, the Ugandan military spokesman, says a clear picture of the dawn raid will emerge once a team sent to Somalia makes groundwork. 
  • In 2015, the al-Shabaab attacked a UPDF base in Janaale several miles away from the capital and killed 19 soldiers.

Uganda and the African Union Transition Mission in Somalia (ATMIS) are using airpower to strike al-Shabaab insurgents, who attacked and overran a heavily fortified base occupied by Ugandan soldiers, leaving several dead and others injured.

On Friday morning, al-Shabaab attacked a forward-operating base (FOB) in Bulo Marer, Lower Shabelle region, which is 110km from Mogadishu, the Somalia Capital City. The militants are reported to have made off with military equipment.

Local reports from Somalia indicated that military aircraft dropped bombs on al-Shabaab groups that attacked the FOB. It is believed that nearly 30 militants were killed.

The accounts are corroborated by ATMIS which in a statement issued on Friday evening revealed that it managed to destroy equipment “in possession of the withdrawing militants."

Brig Felix Kulayigye, the Ugandan military spokesman, said a clear picture of the dawn raid will emerge once a team sent to Somalia makes groundwork. The team that is en route the Horn of Africa is led by Lt Gen Kayanja Muhanga, the commander of Land Forces. 

“UPDF condemns the attack on her gallant soldiers by al-Shabaab terrorists, nonetheless, this will not deter our commitment to the ATMIS mandate of ensuring African peace and stability. A team of UPDF under the leadership of the Commander Land Forces, Lt Gen Kayanja Muhanga, has been dispatched to Somalia to ascertain the circumstances under which the attack happened and devise the way forward,” Brig Kulayigye revealed in a statement.

It is not clear whether the Ugandan troops have been able to recover the FOB, but ATMIS said it sent reinforcements to the attacked base.

A source in Somalia told Monitor that the FOB had infantry soldiers, motorised infantry, and armoured vehicles. The source added that the base housed 200 Ugandan soldiers.

Al-Shabaab militants claim to have killed 137 soldiers during the attack and captured others alive. In a propaganda message, the militant group shared images of suspected corpses of UPDF soldiers and others they allegedly took captive. 

Although the militant group is known for exaggerating figures, both the UPDF and the ATMIS have not yet denied the loss. The latter said the militants attacked the FOB “using vehicle borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs) and suicide bombers.”

In a statement, the European Union (EU)—which pulls ATMIS’s purse strings—condemned the attack, adding that it only reinforces their commitment to the peace initiative in Somalia.

“The latest attack against soldiers conducting peace support operations in Somalia only reinforces our commitment to stand with the region and to hold to account those responsible for these continuously heinous assaults against Somali citizens and those seeking to stabilise the situation in the country. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families and military comrades of those affected,” reads the statement by Nabila Massrali, the spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy of the EU.

The EU is one of the major funders of the ATMIS and other peace initiatives to sustain the gains made in Somalia.

Mr Simon Mulongo, a former deputy head of Mission in Somalia, whom Sunday Monitor contacted to understand the procedure taken when such an incident happens, said simultaneous things are done by several stakeholders to reinforce the teams on ground, evacuate the dead or injured if any and later assess the losses and gains. 

“When an incident happens, the field commander immediately writes an incident report, which he or she sends to the contingent commander. It is discussed by the command and also furnishes the leadership with information. The Directorate of Peace and Security of the African Union in Ethiopia is also briefed,” Mr Mulongo said.

Mr Mulongo said at the country level, the contingent commander briefs the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) headquarters.

He added that once the situation has been arrested, an inquiry team composed of military, police and civilians is established. Investigations are consequently done. 

“The findings are discussed by the mission leadership to know the weaknesses, strength and action to be taken,” he said. 

Mr Mulongo further divulged that for the Somalia Mission, the United Nations and European Union are briefed because they handle the compensation of the deceased and injured. 

In 2015, the al-Shabaab attacked a UPDF base in Janaale several miles away from the capital and killed 19 soldiers. Sunday Monitor was unable to independently verify what sort of body count the Ugandan army is grappling with following the militants’ latest attack. 

Friday’s attack comes at the time when the peacekeeping mission is coming to an end and the troop-contributing countries or TCCs are handing over the operations to the Somalia National Army in 2024.

Last week, Uganda passed out hundreds of Somali Special Forces who underwent training in a military training facility in western Uganda.

Ugandan troops have been in Somalia since 2007 under the African Union mandate to enforce peace and they drove the militant group from the capital and many other major towns. The mission has more than 22,000 soldiers from several TCCs.