New Vision (Kampala)

Uganda Ready to Send More Helicopters to Somalia

Photo: New Vision
In Parliament: Minister of State for Defense Jeje Odongo (right) and Gen. Katumba Wamala demanded that the government explain its memorandum of understanding with the UN and the African Union over its mission in Somalia.

Uganda is willing to send another set of combat helicopters to fight the al-Shabaab militants in Somalia despite the setback it suffered when three aircraft crashed in Kenya last Sunday.

Gen. Jeje Odongo, the state minister for defence, said discussions were ongoing between the Government, UN and AU on whether Uganda can send other helicopters.

"If we get a green light, we will send more equipment," Odongo told reporters during an interview at the Air base in Entebbe Friday.

This was at a function organised to welcome 11 of the 21 survivors of the triple chopper crash who returned home on Thursday evening.

The minister said Uganda will remain steadfast in its mission of pacifying its borders, region and the whole of Africa.

Three of the four combat helicopters that were flying to the African Union peace keeping mission (AMISOM) in Somalia crashed in Mt Kenya.

Seven of the 28 soldiers aboard the choppers died. The crashed choppers were found about 200m from each other.

Uganda has some 6,500 troops of the 17,000-strong AU mission in Somalia, but this is the first time it was to deploy helicopters.

The air force would provide aerial escort for convoys, reconnaissance operations along the supply routes, medical evacuation, air search and rescue as well as aerial combat against the al-Shabaab in Mogadishu.

Emotions ran high at the Air Base relatives and army officers welcomed the survivors.

Odongo shook each of the gallant soldiers' hands as he commended them for remaining strong and being patriotic.

Airforce Commander Lt. Gen. Jim Owoyesigire criticized a section of "maverick" politicians and media who spread false allegations that the three combat choppers that crashed in Mt. Kenya were junk.

"They talk of unskilled pilots and maintenance engineers and junk helicopters; which are all empty (talk)," said the Air force Commander.

He explained that the aircraft had been involved in all military campaigns Uganda has had, including chasing away the Joseph Kony's LRA rebels from northern Uganda, south Sudan and eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

The same helicopters were also used in the Central African Republic against the same rebels, he added.

"They (choppers) could take off from Entebbe, refuel at Gulu, then Koboko, Zara, Obo, Semanja up to Chad and operate and come back here safely," he explained.

Owoyesigire challenged whoever wants to know that Uganda's choppers are not junk to wage a guerrilla war.

"Let them go to the bush and we demonstrate to them our helicopters' worth from there," Owoyesigire stated.

About the capability of the pilots involved in the crash, Owoyesigire said they were experienced.

Aviation experts attribute the incident to bad weather, saying the weather atop Mt Kenya is so unpredictable that it can change even within 10 minutes.

Odongo also maintains that the cause of the accidents was only bad weather and that should there be any other cause, the newly instituted board of inquiry will find out.

Gen. Salim Saleh, President Museveni's advisor on defence, is heading the probe team comprising of UPDF chief of legal services, Col. Ramadan Kyamuresire and Eng. Dick Lutaaya of the Air Force.

Also on the probe board is Maj. Gen. Fred Mugisha who until recently was AMISOM's second in command.

The chief of defence forces, Gen. Aronda Nyakairima, is expected to appoint three more people to the board this weekend before inquiries kick off.

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InFocus

Uganda Explores Compensation for Crashed Choppers

In Parliament: Minister of State for Defense Jeje Odongo (right) and Gen. Katumba Wamala demanded that the government explain its memorandum of understanding with the UN and the African Union over its mission in Somalia.

Members of Parliament have urged the government to request compensation from the United Nations for three military helicopters that were lost in a triple crash on Mt. Kenya en ... Read more »