The UPDF has been shaken by the discovery that some of the battle-hardened Al Shabaab militants it is fighting in the volatile Somalia were trained here at home.
Highly placed military sources have told The Observer that the commander of the Ugandan peacekeeping contingent in Somalia, Maj. Gen. Nathan Mugisha, has advised the Commander of the Lands Forces, Lt. Gen. Katumba Wamala, to put the UPDF and other security agencies on “extra alert” as the Ugandan-trained Islamists could plan a terrorist attack in the country.
The UPDF has been secretly training Somali forces at Bihanga Military Training School in the Western Uganda district of Ibanda. The Observer has been told that the UPDF was shocked when it discovered that one of the Al Shabaab fighters killed in the recent fighting near Medina Hospital in Mogadishu was one of those trained by the Ugandan army at Bihanga.
Another Islamist fighter who was injured in the same fighting was also Uganda-trained, raising fear that the UPDF was unknowingly training fighters for Al Shabaab, a suspected extension of Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda.
“AMISOM has discovered that one [of the Islamist fighters] who died and one of the injured were trained by UPDF,” our source in Somalia said.
He added that this had confirmed fears that some of the Somalis trained in Uganda had turned their guns on the peace-keeping troops. According to this source, the injured Al Shabaab fighter who is now undergoing treatment at the UPDF’s field hospital in Mogadishu, would be interrogated after his recovery.
Lt. Col. Felix Kulayigye, the Army Spokesman, told The Observer that he was not surprised that some of the Somali forces trained in Uganda had defected to Al Shabaab and turned the guns against their trainers. “If Jesus was betrayed by his own disciples, how about human beings?” he asked.
Kulayigye explained that the Somalis are being trained at Bihanga under the African Union mandate. Since 2007, one and a half battalions have been trained there.
“It is to build capacity for the peace team. We have trained Somali police and so has Kenya and other neighbouring countries,” Kulayigye said in a brief phone interview on Saturday.
The development comes hot on the heels of another revelation by the African Union Special Representative for Somalia, Wafula Wamunyinyi, that some of the Al Shabaab fighters were actually Ugandans.
According to AMISOM Spokesman, Maj Ba-Hoku Barigye, the three Al Shabaab fighters he met spoke Luganda, Kifumbira and Ateso. He said one of the Ugandans told him he was a member of the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a rebel group that operated in the Rwenzori Mountains along Uganda’s western border with the DR Congo.
Uganda and Burundi are the only African countries that have committed forces to the volatile Somalia that has not had a functional government since 1991 when President Siad Barre was overthrown. Although there is a transitional government in place today, its stint has been disrupted by tribal fighting.
Uganda’s presence in Mogadishu has caused some discomfort in Kampala, after one of the insurgents’ leaders, Sheikh Ali Mohamed Hussein, threatened in a statement in October that Al Shabaab would attack Bujumbura and Kampala in retaliation for an incident involving the peacekeepers, in which about 30 civilians died.
In response, President Museveni warned that the Al Shabaab would regret its decision if it ever attempted to make good its threat.
“Those terrorists, I would advise them to concentrate on solving their problems. If they try to attack Uganda, then they will pay because we know how to attack those who attack us. Al-Shabaab wants to drag us into their war, they shell us and then they also shell Bakara, then they tell people there it was AMISOM (AU peacekeepers) who killed civilians,” said Museveni, said at the closure of the African Union summit on refugees.
More than 1.5 million Somalis are internally displaced and living in improvised camps, while hundreds of thousands of people have fled the country. According to reports, some three million people - half the population – are now in dire need of food aid.