Uganda President Yoweri Museveni has spoken on the early Friday morning raid at a military base in Somalia, revealing details why Al Shabaab managed to overrun the facility manned by up to 200 Ugandan troops.
The militants attacked the base of the African Union Transition Mission in Somalia (Atmis) at Buulo Mareer, Lower Shabelle, on May 26, killing scores of Ugandan soldiers and destroying military equipment.
In a statement released on Twitter, Museveni said the attackers were about 800, according to data captured by unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), commonly known as drones.
Museveni questions the response of the forces at the base and the failure of both human and technology intelligence to detect the attackers.
“In the night of Thursday, at the 11th hour of the night and ten minutes (what the Europeans call 5.30 am of Friday), we had an unfortunate incident in Somalia where our force has operated successfully, ever since 2007,” he said.
The size of a military company is anywhere between a few dozen and 200 soldiers.
“Those defences are quite strong, although they are guarded by light weapons,” President Museveni said.
According to his statement, there were two tanks, two 14.5mm anti- air-craft guns and a 107mm Katyusha rocket launcher.
But the President revealed that some of the soldiers did not perform as expected and panicked, which led to disorganisation and the Al-Shabaab took advantage of that to overrun the base and destroy some of the equipment.
“The panic, it seems, was totally unnecessary because, in fact, both the anti-tank ditch and our soldiers had destroyed three vehicles of explosives outside the FOB. The suicide bombers or whatever were forced to blow themselves up before they gained entry into the base,” he explained.
“Moreover, our UAVs were watching the whole scenario from up in the sky and directing fire. The Chief of Defence Forces (CDF) has set up a Board of Inquiry (BOI), and the full facts will come out, including the details of the casualties,” the President said.
The statement also reveals that when the attack started, many of the soldiers withdrew to the next Forward Operating Base (FOB), nine kilometres away, because the Al Shabaab outnumbered the soldiers at the Buulo Mareer base.
“The terrorists were many, about 800 or so according to the UAVs,” he said, adding that this was a missed opportunity to annihilate them.
“The operations are continuing, and they will regret their actions,” the warned President, who sent his Land Forces commander Lt Gen Kayanja Muhanga to Somalia on Saturday.
“Condolences to the country and the families of those who died. This unfortunate incident should be used to remind all those concerned that operations in Somalia and other theatres are combat missions and not welfare missions where you can access UN allowances,” Mr Museveni said.
This further raises the concern of soldiers’ morale and welfare that a number of reports by commanders and political leaders of Atmis have pointed out, including unpaid mission allowances, as affecting troops’ capacity in the troubled Horn of Africa country.
“It is criminal for anybody involved to send into such a theatre soldiers who are either not suited for that mission or not properly prepared for it. Details will come out after the BOI has finished its work,” Mr Museveni said.