At least 100 soldiers serving with the Uganda People's Defence Forces in the theatres of conflict in Somalia, Central African Republic and Karamoja sub-region have been killed in the last one year, a senior military officer told Parliament yesterday.
Gen. Katumba Wamala, the commander of the Land Forces, told the House Committee on Defence and Internal Affairs that between June 2009 and June 2010, the UPDF lost 113 soldiers. The army, he said, also recorded 240 soldiers as seriously injured while taking part in various operations in the three operational zones. The General said, in Karamoja, 55 soldiers have been killed and 86 injured; in Somalia 26 have died and 68 were injured while in the Central African Republic, 32 have died and 86 injured.
Gen. Wamala made these unprecedented disclosures of detailed information regarding troop casualties when together with State Minister for Defence, Gen. (rtd) Jeje Odongo, they presented the ministry's budget framework paper for 2010/11 to the committee which oversees their ministry's work. "Last month we encountered a situation of growing concern when we had attacks on the UPDF but we had to take over some positions and fight back," Gen. Wamala said of the UPDF role in Somalia. "We have serious threats and we can't ignore them. We need more soldiers in Somalia."
The Ugandan army has a reported 5,000-plus men serving under the African Peacekeeping Mission (Amisom) whose primary mandate is to keep the peace in the war-torn country and protect the Transitional Federal Government.
Amisom, which was given the green light at the recently concluded African Union Summit in Kampala to carry out pre-emptive attacks against the militants, is locked in battle with at least two hardline Muslim factions; Hizbul Islam, and the al Shabaab who are known to be linked to global terror outfit, al Qaeda.
Gen. Wamala told the committee about the army's hunt for Joseph Kony, the leader of the rebel Lord's Resistance Army, who relocated to the central African country in 2009. He said the army has rescued 707 abductees ever since they first dislodged the LRA from its hide-out in the DR Congo's heavily forested Garamba National Park during the December 2008 Operation Lightning Thunder.
In Karamoja, the UPDF continues to pick its way through what has become a complicated disarmament campaign that begun in 2001 in an environment where some warrior communities continue to refuse to give up their weapons and the practice of armed cattle raiding. Nine years later 1,041 guns and 8,500 bullets are said to have been recovered. Gen. Katumba said 18,563 head of cattle have also been recovered, and that the army has killed 478 warriors in combat.
Commenting about the situation in Karamoja, human rights organisations two months ago accused the army of committing grave human rights abuses and atrocities, including allegations of excessive use of force and outright mass murder there. An internal military investigation ordered by President Museveni is underway although some rights activists say the army cannot be impartial in a matter where it is the accused.