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UPDF suspends officers as Somalia deaths reach 19

Storyline:National News, World

The Uganda People’s Defence Force (UPDF) has suspended four commanders at the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom) military base that was attacked on September 1 by al-Shabaab fighters.

The suspension, pending a military trial, was ordered by President Museveni; in a radio message to the chief of defence forces (CDF) and all units, as Museveni wondered how al-Shabaab could breach UPDF defences.

Army Spokesman Paddy Ankunda confirmed the development on Saturday, telling The Observer: “They were suspended so investigations could start.”

Lt Col Ankunda, however, requested not to discuss the matter in detail due to the sudden death, hours earlier, of the CDF, Gen Aronda Nyakairima.

Addressing journalists in Japan, where he was on a state visit, President Museveni said the suspended commanders would face a military court martial for their role in the incident. The president said the attack claimed 19 soldiers, while another six are feared to have been captured by the Somali militants.

“It was the mistake of our own soldiers. Our commanders were asleep, not alert,” Museveni told a small group of reporters in Tokyo, according to the Associated Press.

In his radio message sent out on September 1, President Museveni mentioned that the UPDF lost 17 fighters [which he has since updated to 19] and wondered how the attack could have happened. He ordered for the arrest of the battalion commander of the UPDF sector in Janale, as well as the company commanders and intelligence officers.

The town of Janale, which is in Somalia’s Lower Shabelle region, is 65 kilometres (40 miles) southwest of the Horn of Africa nation’s capital Mogadishu. The death toll mentioned by President Museveni contradicts those announced by the army shortly after the attack, in which they said the army had lost 12 fighters, but then returned only 10 bodies.

In the radio message, Museveni wondered why the UPDF was not following its SOPs [standard operational procedures], which should have kept the Amisom military base safe from attack. He wondered how a vehicle full of explosives could have driven past UPDF defences that are hundreds of metres away and reached the military base.

The decision to suspend the soldiers came after Gen. Katumba Wamala, who travelled to Janale shortly after the attack, had said he was “convinced the boys put up a good fight.” Gen. Katumba said he had gone to establish whether there were any flaws in the response to the attack.