Following recent intense fighting between the Transitional Federal Government forces supported by the Amisom peacekeepers and al Shabaab fighters in the Somali capital Mogadishu, the latter has been forced out of sections of the city they had occupied for long. Risdel Kasasira caught up with the commander of the Ugandan Amisom contigent, Col. Paul Lokech at his office in Mogadishu for an update of the development
By Risdel Kasasira Posted Sunday, June 26 2011 at 00:00
How many soldiers has Uganda lost ever since the deployment of UPDF in Somalia?
I cannot tell the exact number of soldiers who have died in Somalia because I came here on May 1. Of course, we have taken some a few causalities and also lost some few soldiers in these counter-terrorism operations. But if you look at the number of soldiers we have lost and compare it with our achievements, you will realise that our achievements are great.
How are soldiers copying up with this different and difficult terrain of urban combat and what are some of the tactics the foreign fighters have brought into this warfare?
At home, we have been operating in the north, southern Sudan, and eastern Congo and this was about counter-insurgency operations. Here in Somalia, the concept is slightly different. We are involved in urban-warfare, which is majorly counter-terrorism in an urban terrain. Therefore, the tactics and the way you manoeuvre here is slightly different from the way you manoeuvre in an open savannah land. In the Savannah, you can move faster. In a built up area like Mogadishu, you must restrict the pace of your movement. Therefore, you have to move very slowly. You must move consciously to minimise causalities.
These foreign fighters are here to brainwash young people to join al Shabaab fighters. They use wrong interpretation of the Koran to confuse the hearts and minds of the youth. They are brainwashing these young people to join the rebellion. They have taken the Somalis hostage. They have run away from their countries because they are criminals. They tell young Somali boys that if you become a suicide bomber, the gates to heaven, will be opened for you. They do this not knowing they are destroying Somalia. They go to the areas of Lower Shabelle and abduct people from their gardens and forcefully recruit them to fight this unjust cause. But we shall fight them and they know we will. The other day we killed two Yeminis when we were fighting in Bondhere. There were also Pakistanis we killed when we were capturing Wanah Road. The Transitional Federal Government (TFG) forces identified them as Pakistanis and Yeminis. These foreign fighters have now shifted to the districts of Abdi Aziz and Kalan in the eastern axis of Mogadishu. But we shall follow them.
People say you are no longer peacekeepers because you are fighting to gain ground, and in fact, others have called you aggressors. What is your comment?
No, no. When the first battle group came, it was about peacekeeping. But we later realised that there was no peace to keep. There was absolutely no peace to keep. Later on, the mandate was changed to peace enforcement. We are now enforcing peace. You must also remember that the Mission is here to protect and support TFG institutions. We are building TFG forces and we are also supposed to conduct support operations for humanitarian assistance. These are some of the roles we are supposed to play, according to the new mandate.
Are you not fighting a losing battle because you are gaining ground on the battle field but people under the areas you have liberated have no food and there is no social service delivery. Don’t you think insufficiency of the basics of life will cause a new conflict and you go back to zero?
I don’t think this is a losing battle. We will win this battle. Of course, in life, the most important thing is security. You can have political disagreements and continue to live and get the basics of life, but when disagreements result into war, then know that life is threatened. Let’s first achieve security and wait for the rest to come. If you successfully bring back sanity, those services will come. In fact, life is returning to normal in Mogadishu because kiosks are coming up, business is picking up in some places and the old buildings are being rehabilitated. This tells a lot. It shows there is hope. The international do not come here because of insecurity. But immediately we secure the entire place, they will come. I can confidently tell you that we are winning. Let’s first get the al Shabaab out of our way and you will see the rest coming because they are burden to development. Once we secure Mogadishu, everything will flow.
If you flash them out of Mogadishu, won’t they go to Kisamayo and still come to attack your positions?
If they go to Kisimayo, the TFG forces will follow them. We shall not stop at chasing them out Mogadishu; we shall support TFG forces to pursue them whenever they will be. As long as they are in Somalia, we shall deal with them. At the moment, we are training, mentoring and restructuring them. It’s just a question of time for them to have a strong force and secure this country.
When we visited the frontlines yesterday, it was only UPDF and the Burundian forces fighting while the TFG forces are behind the African peacekeepers. Is this the kind of mentoring you are talking about?
They are there. Maybe you didn’t identify them because they put on the same uniform like the UPDF. They are very good fighters. These are former warriors. What they lack is organisation. Secondly, this element of clanism is a very big problem here. It will take them sometime before they change this mentality of clannish society.
When shall we see you taking over Bakaara Market and eventually Mogadishu?
I don’t want to talk about timelines but we shall soon have it under our control. It’s the main economic hub of al Shabaab. That is where they get money to sustain their operations. We are already in the vicinity of Bakara. It is just a question of time. Taking over Mogadishu is not the problem, but securing it is the problem. You can take it over in a month, but you need man power to sustain the takeover. .nationmedia