UPDF calls up 2 000 reservists for deployment to Somalia

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The Ugandan People’s Defence Force (UPDF) has called up 2 000 army reservists, who will undergo a month-long military refresher course before deployment to the African Union mission in Somalia. They are set to replace Uganda Battle Group 9 when it returns home in January.

In a statement, Captain Deo Akiiki of the UPDF’s 3rd Division said the army will recall retired UPDF soldiers and auxiliary forces.

He said they are specifically looking for reservists who served in counter-insurgency operations against Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in the north, the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) rebels in the Ruwenzori region and armed cattle rustlers and bandits in the Karamoja region.

The re-training programme is set to begin today at the UPDF Bugema Barracks in Mbale, UPDF Gaddafi Barracks in Jinja and the UPDF 3rd Division Barracks in Moroto.

The force will be deployed in January to Somalia where Uganda provides the bulk of the 17 000 African Union (AU) forces battling al-Shabaab militants.

Until the deployment of the Kenyan Defence Forces (KDF) to Somalia more than a year ago, the UPDF formed the backbone of the AU fighting force there.

The entry of the KDF in late 2011 allowed African Union forces to launch wider operations focused on seizing central and southern Somalia, particularly the ports of Baidoa and Kismayo.

Over a period of ten months, the KDF battled slowly through southern Somalia, capturing several small sea-ports and eventually scoring the conflict’s major victory by capturing the al-Shabaab stronghold and economic epicentre of Kismayo in October.

Although severely weakened militarily and in disarray organisationally, al-Shabaab remains active and has resorted to guerrilla warfare to carry on fighting, especially in central Somalia where it is battling the UPDF and in the south despite the massive land, sea and airborne KDF onslaught.

Nearly 1 700 soldiers of Ugandan Battle Group 9, which was deployed in central Somalia in March this year, will return home in January 2013. The UPDF is steadily increasing its force in Somalia from 5 160 previously and expects to have a total strength of 6 860 when the deployment of fresh troops is completed.

The build-up of forces is in line with a UN resolution which authorised AMISOM forces in Somalia to increase their numbers as the military action has moved to counter-insurgency operations beyond the capital Mogadishu.

Apart from Kenya and Uganda, the AMISOM force in Somalia has contingents drawn from Rwanda, Burundi and Senegal. However, the UPDF call-up for Somalia comes at a time when Uganda’s continued involvement in UN and AU missions is threatened by increasingly frosty relations with the UN.

The country has threatened to withdraw the UPDF from all US and UN backed regional military operations to protest UN accusations that it is backing the M-23 rebellion in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

Following the publication of the damning UN Group of Experts report on the conflict in Eastern DRC, Uganda wrote to UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon informing him that it will withdraw from the AU mission in Somalia and the hunt for Joseph Kony in the Central Africa Republic and the DRC unless the UN corrected its report, which it has vocally dismissed as baseless and fabricated to malign its interests.

Among other alleged misdeeds, the leaked UN report accuses Uganda of providing UPDF military units to help the M-23, providing and delivering ammunition, providing technical assistance, joint planning, political advice and facilitation of the groups’ external relations programmes.

It also accused Rwanda of providing Rwandan Defence Forces (RDF) units to back M-23 military operations. Rwanda, whose defence minister James Kabarebe is accused of being the real leader of the M-23, has also reacted angrily and dismissed the UN report as false and deliberately misleading.