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Museveni sneaks into Somalia

As UPDF losses reach 13

President Yoweri Museveni secretly visited Somalia on his way to South Africa last weekend, The Observer has established.

An impeccable State House source has told us that the commander in chief rushed to war-torn Mogadishu on Saturday to reorganise and morale boost Ugandan soldiers following an attack by Al Shabaab fighters that left a lieutenant colonel and 12 other soldiers dead.

The attack angered the President because it came on the heels of major gains on the part of Somali Transitional Government (TGF) forces and African Union peacekeepers (AMISOM) comprising Ugandan and Burundian troops.

We have been told that the President had to skip the Bunyoro Empango celebrations so as to be able to make a stop-over in Mogadishu before proceeding to Pretoria in South Africa for the second tripartite meeting of regional trading blocs.

Lt Col Felix Kulayigye, the army spokesman, said he was not aware of President Museveni’s brief trip to Somalia.

“He met the Somali president recently; why would he then travel?” Kulayigye said.

On more deaths arising from the recent skirmishes in Mogadishu, the army spokesman advised us to contact AMISOM when he was told that information available to The Observer indicated more deaths had occurred.

The stop-over came with major changes in the army command in Somalia, with the commander in chief removing Maj Gen Nathan Mugisha who had been overall commander, and replacing him with Fred Mugisha who was with “immediate effect” promoted from Brigadier to Major General.

Fred Mugisha had previously been attached to the UPDF’s artillery section. Maj Gen Nathan Mugisha, who has been the commander, was reassigned as Uganda’s deputy ambassador to Somalia, while a civilian, Ngoma Ngime, who has been serving in that position, has been recalled and referred to the ministry of Foreign Affairs in Kampala for reassignment.

The Observer has also learnt from a reliable military source that more soldiers have died from injuries sustained in the devastating attack last week that claimed the life of Lt Col Patrick Sibihwa and five others. That brings to 13 the number of UPDF soldiers killed in that attack.

Unlike his last visit back in November 2010 that was publicised, but only after he had returned to Uganda, the Saturday visit was kept a secret until now. Museveni’s daring stop-over came on the heels of the killing of Fazul Mohammed, the Al Qaeda chief in East Africa, by the Somali forces.

Fazul, believed to have masterminded the twin bombings of the US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam in 1998, was the most wanted African man after the US put a $5 million bounty on his head. Al Shabaab, the Somali-based militant group affiliated to Al Qaeda, has vowed to avenge his death.

Jolted by the manner in which the UPDF were attacked, and the magnitude of the loss, Museveni decided to make drastic changes.

In a communication to the Chief of Defence Forces, the commander in chief also promoted Col Michael Ondoga, currently attending a military course, to the rank of Brigadier, rewarding him for his exemplary command and handling of the terrorist offensive in Mogadishu last year while he was in charge of the Ugandan troops in Somalia.

The fact that Museveni chose to remove Maj Gen Nathan Mugisha immediately and praise his predecessor at the same time suggests that he was dissatisfied with the way his men handled the latest attack.

However, other military sources have revealed that Nathan Mugisha’s tour of duty ended in April. According to this source, Museveni is happy with the military gains in Somalia so far, but concerned about lack of progress on the political front.

His appointment of Nathan Mugisha as a diplomat is, therefore, seen by this source as an attempt to hasten political progress. UPDF soldiers came under attack during operations against insurgents who still control as much as 50% of Mogadishu, notwithstanding recent TGF and AMISOM gains.

The attack, in a part of the war-torn city known as “Bondere district”, left Lt Col Sibihwa, Lt Lawrence Tugume, Cpl Abdalla Isabirye, Pte Augustine Kuloba, Pte Ismail Mugisha and Pte Geoffrey Atopi dead on the spot. Another seven soldiers who were injured in the same attack have since died in hospital.

These have been identified as: Lt Wilson Agaba, S/sgt Paul Bamwine, Pte Peter Okello, Pte Peter J. Anguyo, Pte Micheal Wasajja, Pte Paul Ochaya and Pte Grace Alanyo. Uganda has an estimated 5,000 soldiers stationed in Somalia. Burundi has an estimated 3,000 or so men.

Recently, Somali leaders met in Kampala to discuss the transition in Somalia and it was agreed that the current government gets a one-year extension in order to consolidate the gains so far made with the help of AMISOM.

The transitional government’s term expires on August 23, 2011, a situation that has created a political impasse after the parliament extended its mandate for three years.

Museveni told the international meeting on Somalia that it would be a “win-win situation for all parties” to extend the TFG’s mandate for a period not exceeding one year.


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