New Vision (Kampala)

Uganda: UPDF Sends 3,200 More Troops to Somalia

Photo: Amnesty International
A Russian M1 24 attack helicopter (file photo): The Russian-made helicopters were headed to Somalia to reinforce African Union peacekeeping forces when they went missing.

The army has passed out a new battalion comprising of 3,237 specially trained troops for deployment against the al Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab terrorists in the war-torn Somalia.

This will be Uganda's 10th battle group to be deployed in Somalia since the inception of the African Union (AU) peacekeeping mission (AMISOM) in 2007.

The battle group 10 will replace battle group eight that will return home upon their arrival in Mogadishu.

The troops, who completed a four-month course at Singo military centre in Nakaseke district on Friday, comprise of British and French trained snipers equipped with distinct martial skills.

Other foreign trainers came from the Africa Contingency Operations Training and Assistance (ACOTA), which comprises of mainly retired UN servicemen and women.

Passing out the team on Friday, Maj. Gen. Levy Karuhanga, the UPDF commander of reserve forces, and a group of senior officers were mesmerized by the antics of cordon and search as well as shooting exhibited by the graduands, especially snipers.

"The skills demonstrated imply you are ready to take up the mandate. It's a manifestation of the maturity needed to pursue terrorists and restore calm among the Somalis which had been denied to them by the al-Shabaab," said Karuhanga.

He urged the troops to keep the AU, UN and Uganda's flags high in Somalia, saying assisting and cooperating with other states was part of Uganda Government's ardent pursuit for pan-Africanism.

He cited discipline, rigorous training, combat readiness and the pan-African ideology as key factors for UPDF's venerable success in Somlia evinced by flushing out of the Shabaab fighters from the capital, Mogadishu.

Karuhanga also implored the UPDF troops to respect the Somali cultures, values and norms and obey standing orders to give ASMISOM more triumph over the terrorists.

"You will be joining AMISOM after Somalia's general elections, a situation that will require keeping maximum peace. However, the situation may change from being peaceful; whenever it does, you must also change," Karuhanga told soldiers.

The school commandant Col. Stephen Kashure urged the troops to be steadfast in their pursuit for terrorists, saying that "the performance of the first groups has shown that what seemed mission impossible has become mission manageable."

Upon graduation, the soldiers received a month-long holiday to reunite with their families, after which they will set off for Somalia.

Set up in august last year, Singo Military Training Centre has so far passed out 11 battle groups, seven of which have been sent to Somalia, according to Col. Kashure.

Kashure explained that the troops had been grounded in the UN peace operations system and legal framework.

The UN, in a resolution passed earlier this year, permitted a hike in troops which allowed the AU to launch the second phase of their military offensive outside Mogadishu.

Consequently, Ugandan forces are expected to rise from 5,160 to 6,860. Kenyan troops will rise by 4,700, while Burundi will increase forces by 1,000 and Djibouti is to send an extra 850 combatants.

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