What you need to know:
- When the siege was done, at least 16 police officers and 87 royal guards were dead.
April 1985. Residents of a small fishing community around Bull Shoals Lake, in Marion County, Arkansas, USA, were happy to note two things. One, fishing was doing very well around these parts.
Two, since beginning of the month, many handsome, really fit and strong-looking fishing enthusiasts who had no doubt heard that the fishing was good, had turned up and quietly checked into several motels before taking to the lake. More fishermen-tourists meant more money in the area; locals were thrilled. Local girls, though, were disappointed that the fine young fellows didn’t do more than smile at them.
But then again, how were they supposed to know that these were no ordinary fishermen; but were, in fact, very highly-trained agents, the crème de la crème, of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) on a deadly mission? For a long time, the FBI had taken interest in “The Covenant, the Sword and the Arm of the Lord” (CSA), a much-feared terrorist organisation, with a track record written in blood. CSA had declared war on the US government and was possibly the closest America ever came to having its own Al-Qaeda or Al-Shabaab. Part of its 225-acre compound (which it actually occupied forcefully) bordered the lake.
The CSA community – complete with women and children – lived here. The compound itself was heavily fortified: powerful weapons were mounted at strategic places and manned 24/7. Intelligence gathering had been concluded ages ago; and it was now time to take down CSA.
The lake, which CSA had assumed was safe, had been identified as the weak link in the security strategy, and Federal agents took maximum advantage.
The first few nights were dedicated to extremely risky penetration of the compound by Federal agents, just to confirm what intelligence reports had indicated, and to be certain about the deployment of CSA guards. Once inside, the agents could have actually surprised CSA and shot them to pieces; but they didn’t, because the agreed time had not yet come, and they needed warrants that would legally allow them to enter, search and arrest.
By the 18th day of that April, up to 300 Federal agents were good to attack. In the dead of night agents quietly and stealthily – and patiently – swam ashore with the efficiency of fishes and then crawled, in a manner snakes would envy, into the compound.
By dawn of April 19, the entire place had been penetrated, surrounded and sealed off. Several fishing boats on the lake were filled with agents, sealing off any possible escape over water. Snipers, completely unseen, were positioned everywhere, ready to fire, if CSA tried to be clever. The FBI then quietly waited for daybreak; but presently, two CSA guards wandered right into a sniper hold-out. The agents identified themselves and asked the guards to go back inside one of the buildings. That’s when CSA realised their goose was cooked. One of the leaders came out and talked to the Federal agents.
The agents calmly told him there was a chance to settle the siege amicably. After lengthy consultations, CSA top dog James Ellison agreed to surrender. Women and children were taken out safely. The men of interest were arrested peacefully, charged in court, and sentenced to lengthy jail terms. Ironically, with all the deadly weapons and ammunition available on both sides, and critically, the terrorist reputation of CSA, not one bullet was fired. No one so much as threw a punch. Super-efficient. Humane. Not a life lost.
Juxtapose this with Ugandan equivalent: the Kasese massacres of November 26 and 27, 2016, when our “professional” Uganda Peoples Defence Force’s (UPDF) and police – laid siege to the headquarters of the Rwenzururu Kingdom and the palace of King Wesley Mumbere. When the siege was done, at least 16 police officers and 87 royal guards (who a local MP at the time, Atkins Katusabe who was inside the palace, insists had no firearms) were dead and very many civilians were unaccounted for.
The community was left completely traumatised, business paralysed, a king and kingdom humiliated and the ruling party bitterly hated into the bargain. Clumsy. Callous. Costly.
Mr Tegulle is an advocate of the High Court of Uganda [email protected]