Uganda’s specialized military and intelligence units will this week expand their overt and covert operations in Somalia in the wake of a massive bombing that killed almost 400 people in Mogadishu last week.
This was agreed during bilateral talks between President Museveni and Somali President Mohammed Abdullahi at State House, Nakasero on Sunday.
President Abdullahi said he had “fruitful” talks with Museveni on “security cooperation.”
He further stated that Museveni “Promised full support as we embark on new offensive against Alshabaab.”
Officials said the head of Ugandan Contingent Commander, Brig Kayanja Muhanga, would start sending into the battlefield highly experienced officers to hunt down and kill Al Shabaab fighters.
Uganda had decided to reduce the number of troops in danger zones after being overstretched with insufficient funding and minimal aerial support.
But the bombing which left hundreds dead and many more with broken limbs appears to be changing Uganda’s counter terrorism strategy in the horn of Africa.
The President’s office said in a statement that “Museveni and his Somali counterpart, Mohammed Abdullahi, have held bilateral talks on matters of mutual interest affecting both countries, Uganda and Somalia.”
It did not say a word on Ugandan troops’ shifting role in Somalia where it had primarily been focused on maintaining stability in liberated areas and assisting Somali forces.
The development could as well see Uganda’s stay in Somalia prolonged in an open-ended campaign against the militants.
The Chief of Defence Forces (CDF), Gen David Muhoozi recently traveled to Somalia where he met with senior Somalia commanders on building the country’s security forces to manage its challenges.
Officials say Uganda lacks the vast resource base needed to conduct long-term counter-insurgency operations unless African Union is willing to cut down on its bureaucracy in releasing funds for AMISOM operations.
The United Nations Security Council recently extended its authorization of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) until 31 May 2018, approving a reduction of its uniformed personnel to a maximum 21,626 by 31 December 2017, with an eye towards the gradual handover over of responsibilities to Somali security forces.
Unanimously adopting a new resolution, the Council decided that the downsizing – the first ever for the African-led operation – would include a minimum of 1,040 AMISOM police personnel and five Formed Police Units.
A further reduction (from the current maximum of 22,126) to 20,626 uniformed personnel by 30 October 2018 would follow, unless the Council decides to accelerate that pace, taking into account the capabilities of Somali security forces.
The Council decided that AMISOM’s priority tasks would be, among other efforts, to conduct targeted offensive operations against Al-Shabaab and other armed opposition groups, including jointly with the Somali security forces, and to mentor the latter in cooperation with the UN Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM) and in line with national security structures.
Contacted about this development last month, UPDF spokesperson, Brig Richard Karemire said the UNSC resolution was “binding on us as a troop contributing countries on a UN mandated mission. There will be more discussions on the shape that reduction will take in to ensure that gains made are preserved.”
He further said tasks will be transferred from AMISOM to Somali Security forces in a gradual and conditions based manner.
But this strategy is likely to change with large-scale bombings in the Capital City.
The contingent commander described the attack which analysts consider the deadliest in the history of the war-torn country as a cowardly act, saying that the people of Somalia with the support of AMISOM will triumph over terrorism.
“This is an act of cowardice by the terrorist group, Al-Shabaab, and it is intended to coerce the civilian population into fearing and supporting them, but it is an act of cowardice and we shall defeat it,” Brig. Kayanja said last week.