UPDF mistook al-Shabaab militants for Somali farmers – surviving soldiers

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Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) in Somalia mistook al-Shabaab militants who recently attacked their base to be farmers working in their gardens, the surviving soldiers have reportedly said.

The al-Shabaab on May 26, at about 5 am, attacked and overrun a UPDF base at Buulo-Mareer along River Shabelle in the Lower Shabelle region – about 120km from Somalia’s capital Mogadishu.

Al-Shabaab claims that it killed 137 Ugandan troops. However, President Yoweri Museveni disputed the claims, and said, only 54 soldiers were killed. To prove their claims, al-Shabaab has since released video clips showing the purported bodies of killed soldiers.

Although Lower Shabelle is a drought-prone region, it is also an agricultural hub in Somalia – with many farmers relying on water from R.Shabelle to irrigate their crops, often using donkeys and tractors in the wee hours of the night.

The soldiers have since explained to senior presidential advisor special operations Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba, who, traveled to Somalia over the weekend that, they delayed reacting to the attack thinking they were just farmers in their gardens busy drawing water to irrigate their crops.

“Farmers irrigate their crops using tractors and donkeys throughout the night. This phenomenon led the troops delay to react thinking the lights in gardens were from farmers,” a statement shared by Col Deo Akiiki the deputy UPDF spokesperson reads in part.

Reports indicate that prior to the attack, farmers have been working closer to the UPDF base in the night hours to irrigate crops. As Brig Gen Felix Kulayigye earlier told URN that they had prior intelligence about al-Shabaab attack, the surviving soldiers in Somalia have re-echoed that intelligence was available but they were confused by the farmers’ activities.

Muhoozi has since told the Ugandan soldiers in Somalia that the army leadership has identified tactical and external weaknesses that were exploited by al-Shabaab to successfully overran the Buulo-Mareer camp.

The statement indicates that Muhoozi has cautioned troops not to relax because of the forthcoming African Transition Mission in Somalia (ATMIS) draw-down but to instead be more aggressive.

“Withdrawal operations if not well planned can cause a lot of damage than any other phase of the operation. Never hesitate to make decisions. Hesitation is very dangerous. Failure to decide in time automatically leads to death,” Muhoozi said.

A number of questions have been raised ever since al-Shabaab killed Ugandan soldiers. One of the questions is why Ugandan troops relaxed despite the fact that al-Shabaab had successfully attacked a Kenyan base and killed nine soldiers while the attack on Burundian forces left 60 soldiers dead.

Uganda lost the camp’s highest commander Lt Col Edward Nyororo, who, al-Shabaab claim they shot to death while other theories say he shot himself dead after being encircled by the enemy’s forces.

Museveni has since ordered for court-martialing of two Majors Oluka and Obbo who allegedly directed the troops to withdraw something that gave al-Shabaab an advantage to overrun the base.

Asked why Oluka and Obbo are charged yet information shows they ordered the troops to withdraw after sensing that they could not match the al-Shabaab troops, Kulayigye said they were not the most senior commanders to give such an order.