Al-Shabaab Promises “Ounce for Ounce” Blood Retribution for Ugandan Military Role in Somalia

Andrew McGregor

May 20, 2011

Somalia’s radical Islamist al-Shabaab movement has promised retaliation against Ugandan civilians and Ugandan troops belonging to the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).  Uganda’s president, Yoweri Museveni, has led the African Union’s military effort to preserve Somalia’s ineffective and endangered Transitional Federal Government (TFG).

UPDF PatrolUPDF Patrol in Somalia

In a May 14 statement issued by al-Shabaab’s press office and carried on jihadi websites, the movement declared the Ugandan people’s re-election of Museveni and his party for a fourth term makes the people of Uganda “unanimously complicit in the crimes of their soldiers” in Somalia and was a confirmation of their “commitment to the invasion and oppression of the innocent civilians of Somalia” (, May 14).

Al-Shabaab first issued threats of retaliation against Uganda for its contribution of troops to AMISOM in 2008. In July 2010, al-Shabaab terrorists succeeded in carrying out two bombings in Kampala that killed 74 civilians gathered to watch the World Cup of soccer final.

The new al-Shabaab statement described the troops of the Uganda People’s Defense Force (UPDF) as “paid mercenaries fighting an endless battle on behalf of the West” for a meager salary that can barely support them. Accusing the UPDF of shelling heavily populated residential areas, markets and even hospitals, al-Shabaab promised the Ugandan people would have to repay “ounce for ounce” the blood shed by AMISOM attacks on civilians.

Included in the statement was a reproduction of an identity card issued to a dead Ugandan corporal whose body is being held by the movement. Al-Shabaab fighters continue to defile the bodies of Ugandan and Burundian AMISOM soldiers killed in action by dragging them through the streets. In one such incident last week, the body was believed to belong to one of two Ugandan officers killed in a clash with al-Shabaab – Abdufita Mohammed, the commander of AMISOM forces in the Bakara market area of Mogadishu, and his intelligence officer, Abdiwahab Sheikh Dole (Daily Monitor [Kampala], May 16).

Ugandan security forces may have already succeeded in interdicting a new al-Shabaab terrorist effort in Uganda by arresting four young Somali men who had entered the country illegally by crossing through the bush to avoid border control points. Only one of the men possessed a passport, with the other three claiming to have lost theirs (Daily Monitor, May 16; Reuters, May 16).

Brigadier James Mugira, the Ugandan military intelligence chief, stated after the death of Osama bin Laden that Uganda continues to face other terrorist threats from the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and the Allied Democratic Front (ADF) led by Jamil Mukulu, a former associate of Bin Laden during his time in Sudan in the 1990s (Daily Monitor, May 3).

This article first appeared in the May 20, 2011 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor

Uganda’s Complicated Relationship with Libya’s Mu’ammar Qaddafi

Andrew McGregor

March 31, 2011

In a surprise announcement, Uganda has offered refuge to Libya’s embattled leader, Mu’ammar Qaddafi (AP, March 30). The offer came at the same time as Ugandan government institutions began seizing Libyan assets and investments in Uganda. Libya has extensive investments in Uganda through its Libyan African Investment Portfolio. Among those assets seized are Uganda Telecom (69% Libyan ownership) the Tropical Bank (99.7% Libyan ownership) and the four-star Lake Victoria Hotel (99% Libyan ownership) (New Vision [Kampala], March 29; Daily Monitor [Kampala], March 1).  Total Libyan investment in Uganda is estimated at $375 million. Libya is also a major source of funds for the African Union and the Ugandan-dominated African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).

Libyans UgandaLibyan Troops being Reviewed by Idi Amin in Kampala, 1979

Qaddafi’s most controversial involvement with Uganda came in 1979, when he sent 2,500 Libyan troops together with armor, rockets, artillery and air cover to support Ugandan dictator Idi Amin from an invasion by Ugandan dissidents supported by Tanzanian regulars. Only a year after Major General Idi Amin seized power in Uganda, Qaddafi had managed to persuade him to abandon his Israeli patrons in return for substantial cash donations and investment. The deployment was a military disaster. Far from saving Amin, the arrival of the Libyan troops was interpreted by Amin’s defenders (many of whom were Sudanese) as an opportunity to flee Kampala with looted goods as the Libyans provided cover against the encroaching anti-Amin forces. Many of the Libyans appear to have been told they were going to southern Libya for military exercises. Confusion reigned and the Libyan forces were shattered. Casualties were heavy as the survivors were taken prisoner by the invaders. There were many reports of captured prisoners being executed while some luckier Libyan troops were eventually repatriated to Libya, where Idi Amin also sought refuge before moving on to permanent exile in Saudi Arabia.

Despite this military humiliation, Qaddafi continued to seek influence in Ugandan affairs, an agenda that was assisted by a 1981 encounter with future Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni,  at that point still a guerrilla leader opposing the Ugandan government of Milton Obote (possibly an even worse leader than Idi Amin). Museveni had also fought with the Ugandan dissidents against Libyan troops in Kampala in 1979, though this did not initially pose a problem in the relationship between the two men. Qaddafi began supplying Museveni’s National Resistance Army (NRA) with supplies of badly needed arms and munitions, enabling Museveni’s triumph in 1986.

Libyans Uganda 2Qaddafi National Mosque, Kampala

The skyline of Kampala is dominated by the massive Qaddafi National Mosque, an elaborate building funded by the Libyan leader, who incensed Uganda’s Christian majority at the 2008 opening by claiming the Bible was a forgery and inviting Ugandan Christians to visit Mecca.  Qaddafi was also scheduled on the same trip to unveil a plaque near the Tanzanian border honoring the Libyan soldiers who intervened on Amin’s side in 1979. However, the event was cancelled and Qaddafi made a hasty return to Tripoli after a prominent Ugandan Muslim, Shaykh Obeid Kamulegeya, allegedly informed Qaddafi that Museveni’s faction of fighters had been responsible for the slaughter of captured Libyan troops at a Roman Catholic convent outside of Kampala (Uganda Record, December 21, 2010). A year later there were reports that Ugandan intelligence had discovered Libya had sent funds to support anti-Museveni riots in September 2009 (Kampala FM, September 20, 2009).

Some light on Museveni’s views of Qaddafi was shed by U.S. embassy cables exposed by Wikileaks. In 2007, Museveni complained to Africa Bureau Assistant Secretary Jendayi Frazer that Qaddafi was using bribery and intimidation to persuade West African states to sign on to a union of African states under Qaddafi’s leadership (cable of September 14, 2007, carried by the Guardian, December 7, 2010). Frazer again met with Museveni several months after Qaddafi’s abrupt departure from Uganda. While the Ugandan leader continued to be critical of Qaddafi’s efforts to create a “United States of Africa,” Museveni now confided he was afraid Qaddafi would try to kill him by attacking his plane in international airspace (cable of June 18, 2008, carried by the Guardian, December 7, 2010).

Given Libya’s lengthy and complicated relationship with Uganda, President Museveni penned an open letter on his views of the relationship published by Ugandan dailies (New Vision, March 22). Museveni began by listing a series of “mistakes” by the Libyan leader. These included:

• Backing Idi Amin under the mistaken assessment that Uganda was a “Muslim country” where Amin and other Muslims were oppressed by Christians.

• Qaddafi’s insistence on creating a “United States of Africa” under his own leadership.

• Proclaiming himself an African “King of Kings” by bypassing legitimate African political leaders to appeal directly to traditional African leaders such as local kings or chiefs, most of whom now perform only ceremonial roles in Africa.

• Ignoring the plight of South Sudan to support the Arab leadership of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, now wanted on war crimes charges laid by the International Criminal Court.

• Failing to distance himself from terrorism and the use of indiscriminate violence.

Nevertheless, Museveni also listed a number of qualities possessed by the Libyan leader while describing the importance of Qaddafi’s provision of arms to Museveni’s fighters in 1981: “Qaddafi, whatever his faults, is a true nationalist. I prefer nationalists to puppets of foreign interests.” Describing the Libyan leader as a “moderate,” Museveni pointed to the development of Libya during Qaddafi’s time in power, his advocacy of women’s rights and his opposition to “Islamic fundamentalism.”

The Ugandan president also had harsh words for the Libyan rebel movement: “Regarding the Libyan opposition, I would feel embarrassed to be backed by Western war planes. Quislings of foreign interests have never helped Africa… If the Libyan opposition groups are patriots, they should fight their war by themselves… After all, they easily captured so much equipment from the Libyan Army, [so] why do they need foreign military support? I had only 27 rifles [when Museveni started his campaign to liberate Uganda].”

This article first appeared in the March 31, 2011 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor.

Yoweri Museveni Accuses International Forces of “Enjoying Themselves in the Ocean” as Ugandan Troops Battle al-Shabaab

Andrew McGregor

December 2, 2010

Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni became the first foreign head of state to visit Somalia in over 20 years when he made a three hour visit to Mogadishu on November 28. Though the president’s visit was a carefully concealed secret until his arrival, it served as confirmation of Museveni’s continuing commitment to the political stabilization of Somalia and the elimination of radical Islamist groups such as al-Shabaab and Hizb al-Islam. Ugandan troops form the majority of the African Union’s peacekeeping force in Somalia, the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). Though many other nations have pledged military support to the mission, only Burundi has actually sent troops to support the Ugandans.

uganda amisomUgandan Patrol in Somalia

After landing, Museveni travelled to the AMISOM Halane base camp and met with AMISOM commanders, including Ugandan force commander Major General Nathan Mugisha, Burundian deputy commander Major General Cyprian Hakiiza, Ugandan contingent commander Colonel Michael Ondonga and AMISOM’s Ugandan chief-of-staff Colonel Innocent Oula (Daily Monitor [Kampala], November 29). The president also met with Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG) president Shaykh Sharif Shaykh Ahmed and the new Prime Minister, Muhammad Abdullahi Muhammad.

With Uganda and Burundi engaged in frontline combat to preserve the imperiled TFG, Museveni was critical to the point of sarcasm in commenting on what he described as a lack of seriousness regarding Somali security issues on the part of the international community, which maintains an expensive deployment of warships off the Somali coast that has had little impact on piracy and virtually no impact on the internal struggle for Somalia:

“We want more troops from Uganda or from anywhere in Africa. Uganda is a country of 33 million people, so we could mobilize three million people. But who will pay for it? International support is not enough. [The international community] don’t take the Somali problem seriously. They are busy enjoying themselves in the ocean, having a nice time in the ocean. Do you know how much money they spend in the ocean? The pirates who go to the ocean to steal from ships come from land. Have you heard that Somalis have become aquatic?”  (Daily Monitor, November 29; New Vision [Kampala], November 29).

AMISOM troops have assumed the burden of defending the TFG from Islamist assaults. A continuing effort to train the TFG’s own military force has been largely unsuccessful with a lack of discipline and resources cited as the main problems. Somali information minister Abdirahman Omar Osman recently admitted that the TFG’s failure to make regular payments to its troops and the appeal of al-Shabaab’s Islamic propaganda have led to defections from TFG forces (Daily Monitor, November 7). The TFG mandate expires in August 2011, leaving an uncertain future for Somalia.

Though the Islamists continue to control most of southern Somalia, Ugandan Colonel Michael Ondoga says progress has been made in recent months in Mogadishu, where AMISOM troops have expanded the area under the control of the TFG to roughly 50% of the city, the largest area secured by the peacekeeping force since its deployment three years ago. The next step is to take Mogadishu’s Bakara Market (currently in the hands of al-Shabaab), but further offensives are hampered by insufficient forces to consolidate and hold positions already taken (New Vision, November 29). The market was the scene of several days of heavy fighting and shelling that coincided with Museveni’s visit (Garowe Online, November 30).

Ugandan diplomats have argued with the UN Security Council (whose chairmanship Uganda will relinquish next month) that an enhanced AMISOM force of 20,000 men would be cheaper and more effective in dealing with piracy than a varied naval presence that lacks a unified leadership (New Vision, November 14). Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza has also called for reinforcements and a more aggressive mandate for AMISOM (Garowe Online, November 19). Burundi has just sent an additional battalion to AMISOM, bringing the peacekeeping force up to the original projected strength of 8,000 men for the first time (Daily Monitor, November 26).

Museveni’s visit was not well received by Hizb al-Islam, whose spokesman Shaykh Muhammad Osman Arus claimed AMISOM was committing genocide in Mogadishu: “[Museveni] came here to witness how the Muslim people are being harmed. He must have felt pleased by the atrocities committed.” The shaykh pledged new attacks on AMISOM to demonstrate the Islamists’ displeasure (Africa Review [Nairobi], November 30).

This article first appeared in the December 2, 2010 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor

Former Intelligence Chief Accused of Terrorism Calls for Rwandan Uprising

Andrew McGregor

August 12, 2010

As Rwandan President Paul Kagame enjoys an easy triumph at the polls this week with 93% of the vote, he is sure to be casting a wary eye at a possible alliance between his former army chief-of-staff, Lieutenant-General Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa, and Rwanda’s former intelligence director, Colonel Patrick Karegeya. Both men fled Rwanda this year for Johannesburg, from where Kagame’s government claims they are involved in organizing grenade attacks in Rwanda’s capital of Kigali.

Rwanda 1Lieutenant-General Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa

Despite police reports that suspects apprehended in the grenade attacks belong to the Hutu-based Forces Démocratiques de Libération du Rwanda (FDLR), Rwandan prosecutors claimed General Nyamwasa and Colonel Karegeya were behind the violence. Prosecutor General Martin Ngoga said the men had linked up in South Africa, where they are alleged to have “planned and started implementing acts aimed at creating state insecurity… these acts include hurling grenades in Kigali city and other places” (Rwandan News Agency, July 2).

Karegeya is one of many Tutsis born in exile to have become allied with Yoweri Museveni’s Ugandan National Resistance Army (NRA) before he played an important role in sweeping the Hutu out of power in Rwanda in 1994. After studying law at Kampala’s Makerere University, Karegeya became a member of Museveni’s NRA in 1982. He was arrested by Ugandan intelligence while trying to go to Libya for military training and remained in the Luzira Maximum Security Prison until he was released following the overthrow of Milton Obote in 1985. Karegeya rejoined Museveni’s forces as they toppled Obote’s successor, General Tito Okello.

Rwanda 2Colonel Patrick Karegeya

Karegeya then served as director of Rwanda’s External Service Organization (ESO), the national intelligence service, from 1994 to 2004. Karegeya played an important part in intelligence operations against his former Ugandan patrons in clashes with the Forces Rwandaises de Défense (FRD – the national defense force) in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) between 1998 and 2003. According to Karegeya, “Fighting the enemy you know [the Ugandan People’s Defense Force – UPDF} was especially very challenging” (The Observer [Kampala], August 2). In 2005 Karegeya was brought up on charges of insubordination and desertion. He was stripped of his rank in 2006 and spent 18 months in jail, mostly in solitary confinement in Kigali’s Mulindi Military Prison.

Some sources claim Karegeya fled to Uganda and then South Africa after learning of plans to have him killed (Radio Katwe [Kampala], November 28, 20007). Only days before the election Karegeya issued a call for Rwandans to bring down Kagame’s government:

We fought for the liberation of Rwanda so that Rwandans can enjoy peace and be delivered from dictatorship, but we have not seen that. A dictator can never step down, they are brought down. It’s only Rwandans who can stand up now and fight for their freedom. Kagame will have his breaking point and I think it will be very soon (Observer [Kampala], August 2).

General Nyamwasa was also a veteran of Museveni’s NRA before joining the Rwanda Patriotic Army in its post-genocide conquest of Rwanda in 1994. He served as army chief-of-staff until 2002 and then became national security chief. After reportedly being tied to a failed coup attempt in 2003, Nyamwasa went into a comfortable exile as ambassador to India.

Since fleeing to Johannesburg after his return to Rwanda earlier this year, Nyamwasa has been accused by the regime of financial improprieties, military incompetence and abandoning his comrades on the battlefield, though the intense criticism has led some to wonder how such a man could have been chief-of-staff for so many years.

In May General Nyamwasa told a Ugandan daily that Kagame’s focus was no longer on the Party and the country, but on Kagame himself. He stated, “[Our] disagreements are centered on governance, tolerance, insensitivity, intrigue and betrayal of our colleagues… I saved President Kagame’s life twice during the struggle when everyone else had abandoned him in Nkana and Kanyantanga. Where were all those who are telling him that I am a traitor?” Nyamwasa says he and Karegeya are both lawyers and are fully aware that Kigali has no extradition treaty with South Africa, and that “there is no evidence whatsoever that links us to the bombing in Kigali” (Daily Monitor [Kampala], May 30).

General Nyamwasa was shot twice in Johannesburg on June 19. Though shot in the stomach, he survived by grabbing the gunman when the third round jammed in the assailant’s weapon (Daily Monitor, June 19). South African prosecutors arrested five men in the assassination attempt but have refused to identify their nationality. Kigali has demanded their extradition while denying any role in the assault, but South Africa instead recalled its ambassador in Kigali on August 5 to express its displeasure over the incident (AFP, August 5; al-Jazeera, August 10).

This article first appeared in the August 12, 2010 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor

Al-Shabaab Expands Operational Zone with Kampala Bombing – But to What End?

Andrew McGregor

July 16, 2010

After several years of threats and warnings, al-Shabaab’s Somali jihad has finally spilled across Somalia’s borders to its East African neighbors. On July 11, bombs ripped through the Ethiopian Village Restaurant and the Kyadondo Rugby Club in Kampala, killing 74 civilians gathered to watch the World Cup finale. Somali Islamists have violently opposed the viewing of soccer matches in the past, saying the time could be better spent studying the Koran. Ethiopians are especially hated by al-Shabaab because of their country’s military occupation of Somalia from December 2006 to January 2009.

Kampala 1An estimated 5,000 people were in attendance at the rugby ground, which was reported to have little in the way of security arrangements (Daily Monitor [Kampala], July 13). The events have been termed suicide bombings, but there is emerging evidence, confirmed by al-Shabaab leaders, that the attacks were carried out by planting suicide vests that could be detonated remotely (New Vision [Kampala], July 13; Daily Nation [Kampala], July 13).

There is ample speculation that al-Shabaab is expressing its intention to join the global jihad with the Kampala bombings. However, the attacks are more likely to be part of a strategic plan to eliminate al-Shabaab’s strongest opposition to completing its conquest of Mogadishu and elimination of the TFG – the 5,000 African Union peacekeepers from Uganda and Burundi. The mandate of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) has changed since the first deployment of Ugandans in 2007. With no peace to keep, the mission’s mandate now provides for the vigorous military defense of the Shaykh Sharif Shaykh Ahmad government.

The bombings were carefully timed, coming a week in advance of the July 19-27 African Union summit meeting of heads of state, hosted this year by Kampala. More importantly, however, they come as a timely warning to the six member nations (Uganda, Sudan, Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti) of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), a regional grouping which responded to an urgent appeal from Somali president Shaykh Sharif Shaykh Ahmad by pledging on July 6 to provide an additional 2,000 men to AMISOM by September. Addressing worshippers at Mogadishu’s Nasrudin Mosque after prayers on July 9, al-Shabaab spokesman Ali Mahmud Raage accused the Somali president of handing the country over to the IGAD group of nations (Shabelle Media Network, July 9). Despite the decision, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi made it clear that Ethiopian forces would not join the new deployment (AFP, July 7; PANA Online, July 6).

Al-Shabaab first issued threats of retaliation against Uganda for its contribution of troops to AMISOM in 2008. These threats culminated with a warning from al-Shabaab leader Shaykh Ahmad Abdi Godane “Abu Zubayr” on July 5 that “My message to the people of Uganda and Burundi is that you will be the targets of retaliation for the massacre of women, children and elderly Somalis in Mogadishu by your forces. You will be held responsible for the killings your ignorant leaders and your soldiers are committing in Somalia” (AFP, July 5).

After the bombings, Shabaab spokesman Ali Mahmud Raage described the attacks as “retaliation against Uganda” as he told reporters, “We thank the mujahideen that carried out the attack. We are sending a message to Uganda and Burundi, if they do not take their AMISOM troops out from Somalia, blasts will continue and it will happen in Bujumbura too” (Shabelle Media Network, July 12; Daily Monitor [Kampala], July 13; AFP, July 12).

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni’s resolve as AMISOM’s biggest backer to see the mission through is unlikely to be affected by the bombings, but the effect on support from a largely disinterested population will only begin to emerge after the official five day mourning period is over. For all of their military efforts in Somalia and now civilian losses at home, Uganda and AMISOM cannot turn the tide in favor of a transitional government that exists largely on paper. Most TFG parliamentarians and government leaders live outside the country, the president rarely emerges from the Presidential Palace, only blocks from the frontlines, and newly trained TFG troops desert with their rifles when they realize they are unlikely to be paid. Only a handful of tribal and religious militias with more interest in opposing the Shabaab extremists than preserving the TFG prevent AMISOM from being the lone defense of the TFG, a government that never found its footing and now survives only through foreign financial and military assistance.

More than 1,000 TFG troops are undergoing military training in Southeast Uganda by the European Union Training Mission (EUTM). The goal is to have 2,000 Somalis given basic training by the Ugandan army over the next year before receiving advanced training from the EU force. Salaries for the TFG recruits are being withheld until training is completed to prevent desertion ( [Madrid], May 31; El Mundo [Madrid], May 28; Nation Television [Nairobi], May 27).

Beyond the threat of al-Shabaab attacks, Bujumbura may soon find itself in need of its elite troops at home rather than in Mogadishu. Only six years removed from a brutal 12-year civil war, Burundi has endured almost daily grenade attacks in the capital and elsewhere in the weeks leading up to the re-election of sole candidate for the opposition-boycotted presidency contest, incumbent Pierre Nkurunziza (AFP, June 28).

Kenya responded to the attacks in Kampala by sending its elite General Service Unit to bolster defenses along its poorly secured 900 km border with Somalia (East African [Nairobi], June 14). The nation has received threats from al-Shabaab in the past for training TFG troops and harboring anti-Shabaab Somali politicians in exile. As part of its new policy on Somalia, Nairobi is urging the creation of a 20,000 man UN-AU hybrid peacekeeping force with full authority to combat al-Shabaab.


This article first appeared in the July 16, 2010 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor

Surrendered Commander Says Lord’s Resistance Army Sponsored by Khartoum

Andrew McGregor

Terrorism Monitor, November 25, 2009

Senior Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) commander Lieutenant Colonel Charles Arop has given an interview to a Kampala daily after having been sent to the Ugandan capital following his surrender to Ugandan troops operating in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) (New Vision [Kampala], November 23). Arop is best known for directing a massacre of 143 Congolese civilians in the village of Faradje on Christmas Day, 2008 (see Terrorism Monitor, November 13). He is now engaged in helping Ugandan forces convince other LRA fighters to surrender. During the interview, he showed reporters wounds from nine bullets, three of which are still inside his body.

LRA 1Former LRA field commander Charles Arop

Following rumors circulating in October that the LRA had crossed into south Darfur, Arop said it was the intention of LRA leader Joseph Kony to move along the Central African Republic border to Chad and then into Darfur to meet officers of the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF), long reputed to be the LRA’s sponsors. Kony “told me he was going to meet Fadil, the SAF officer who coordinates LRA activities. He wants the Arabs to give him logistical support and a safe haven” (see Terrorism Monitor, October 23). Arop says Kony urged all LRA units to make their way to Darfur and report to the first “Arab” military post they came across.

Despite a disastrous start to last year’s Operation Lightning Thunder, a joint operation of the militaries of Uganda, the DRC and Southern Sudan, continuous pressure by the Ugandan People’s Defense Force (UPDF) has eliminated many LRA fighters and compelled others to turn themselves in after suffering from exhaustion and hunger. Arop estimates only half of the force of 500 LRA fighters that existed last December are still in the field. “Kony is desperate. Things are really hard. We were constantly on the move. Sometimes we would not rest for a week. The UPDF was pursuing us everywhere.”

Arop suggests it was only a delay by the UPDF in following the LRA into the Central African Republic (CAR) that allowed the LRA a chance to regroup and abduct more people for use as fighters, laborers or sex slaves. Like most LRA fighters, Arop was himself an abductee, taken from his home in Gulu at age 16. Though the LRA began as a Christian fundamentalist/Acholi nationalist movement, there are few Acholis still left in the LRA ranks, with most fighters representing a hodgepodge of individuals abducted from various tribes in Uganda, South Sudan, the DRC and the CAR.

LRA 2Lord’s Resistance Army Fighters

Arop describes LRA leader Joseph Kony as a man obsessed with his own survival. Since Operation Lightning Thunder began, Kony has stopped communicating by phone, sending messages only by couriers on foot or by sending his aides up to 20 kilometers away before they are allowed to use their phones. Arop confirmed earlier reports that Kony never takes part in battles. “Whenever attacked, he runs away and leaves his fighters to fight back. I have never seen him fight.”

The LRA commander elaborated on last year’s horrific Christmas Day massacre at Faradje, describing the attack as retaliation ordered by Kony for the participation of Congolese troops in Operation Lightning Thunder. Arop claims his own role was carried out under duress. “Kony gave 30 of his bodyguards to join my group. There was no way I could not execute the mission. They had a phone and were constantly reporting to him. If I had refused, I would have been killed… It was painful, but you have to do it. I want to ask the relatives of those we killed to forgive me. Whatever we did, we did it under orders.”

According to Arop, the LRA received most of its weapons and military supplies from the SAF. Large caches of arms were concealed in the river banks and hills of South Sudan. “There are still a lot of arms caches the UPDF has not yet unearthed.” Other weapons and supplies were recently seized from UN troops in the DRC and game rangers in Garamba National Park, where the LRA took refuge after the start of Operation Lightning Thunder.

This article first appeared in the November 25, 2009 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor.


Cracks Begin to Show in the Lord’s Resistance Army

Andrew McGregor

November 13, 2009

A sustained cross-border campaign by Uganda’s Special Forces to eliminate the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in cooperation with the military of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) of South Sudan appears to be yielding results nearly a year after Operation Lightning Thunder began.

LRA PatrolLRA Patrol

The perilous condition of the scattered LRA forces was best revealed by the surrender of senior LRA commander Charles Arop, notorious for his supervision of a typically senseless LRA massacre of 143 Congolese civilians in the village of Faradje using axes, clubs and machetes on Christmas Day, 2008 (New Vision [Kampala], November 5; AFP, November 5).  Continuing in a means of propagating itself, the LRA kidnapped 160 children for use as labor, sex-slaves or fighters (the latter must usually murder their own parents as part of the LRA’s method of breaking the mental resistance of its recruits). Arop recently commanded a force of over 100 fighters, but continuous attacks by the Ugandans devastated his command. Referring to Arop’s surrender, Lieutenant-Colonel Felix Kulayigye of the Ugandan People’s Defense Forces (UPDF) noted, “He was only left with one fighter, so what choice did he have?” (AFP, November 5).

Among those to come in recently was the last of the four wives of feared LRA Brigade Commander Okello Kalalang, who was killed in a September bombardment of LRA positions in the Central African Republic (CAR).

Other rebels are reportedly eager to surrender due to the deteriorating conditions in LRA camps, though all are aware that escape attempts are punished by the LRA with instant death. The breakup of the LRA into smaller units following the onslaught of Operation Lightning Thunder has weakened the movement’s capabilities, with the small units constantly on the move. According to the recently surrendered Lieutenant Francis Opira; “Life has become hard. We are few, which forces us to do a lot of work. Walking in the long bushes has also become tiresome” (New Vision, November 3). The large number of LRA officers and NCOs that have turned themselves in demonstrates a loosening of the iron discipline that once kept the LRA in the field despite a distinct absence of popular support. Without constant indoctrination, many of the abductees who form the majority of the LRA’s strength have begun to think of a return home under the lenient conditions being offered by Kampala.

A group of nine LRA members who surrendered following a late October battle in the Central African Republic cited a power vacuum in the leadership and a shortage of food in the bush as the main reasons behind their submission. All nine were under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Otto Malaba and Lieutenant Ochen, who continue to operate along the DRC-CAR border (Daily Monitor [Kampala], November 2).

This article first appeared in the November 13, 2009 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor

Is Uganda’s Lord’s Resistance Army Operating in Darfur?

Andrew McGregor

October 23, 2009

Various reports are claiming that the guerrillas of Uganda’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) have moved in bulk into South Darfur, where they will allegedly seek supplies and arms from the Sudanese government. The movement into Darfur was reported to have been compelled by helicopter attacks on the LRA by Ugandan Special Forces units operating out of Yambio, Sudan as part of a tripartite (DRC, Uganda, South Sudan) military offensive against the brutal fighters led by the notorious Joseph Kony.

Arrow BoysArrow Boys of Western Equatoria

Most prominent of these was a front page cover story in Britain’s Independent daily asserting Kony and a significant part of his forces had crossed into southern Darfur (Independent, October 17). The main source in the story was a statement by Major-General Kuol Deim Kuol of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) of South Sudan that was carried in the Sudanese press two weeks earlier (Sudan Tribune, September 28). General Kuol claimed the bulk of the LRA forces had crossed from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and the Central African Republic (CAR) into southern Darfur, where they had clashed with the local population. The General maintained SPLA reconnaissance groups had tracked the LRA across the border, where he suggested they would seek a safe base for their wives and families while seeking arms and ammunition from the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF).

However, the Independent reported Kuol saying hunters had encountered LRA fighters near the town of Tumbara. There is no such place in southern Darfur, though there is a Tambura in the southern part of Western Equatoria (South Sudan), close to the LRA’s operations in the CAR, but far from the border with southern Darfur. The Independent added that the LRA had moved into the “Raga district in southern Darfur.” Raga is in Western Bahr al-Ghazal, also part of South Sudan rather than Darfur. The director of communications from the United Nations/African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) declared the mission had spent days going over reports of an LRA presence, but had failed to find any “hard evidence” to confirm them (Independent, October 17).

The original Sudan Tribune story said that “Kuol suggested that Kony is seeking protection from the Sudanese army and may be used to fight the Darfur rebels” (September 28). Basing its report on the Sudan Tribune story, the Kampala Observer claimed several days later that Kuol had stated that the LRA were fighting as mercenaries alongside the Janjaweed militia in Darfur (October 4).

Elsewhere, there were reports of LRA fighters killing two women in raids near Yambio in Western Equatoria at the same time the main group was reported to be crossing into Darfur (Sudan Tribune, October 16; New Vision [Kampala], October 16). The fighters were driven off by members of the lightly armed Arrow Boys, a local self-defense group that combats LRA incursions with weapons such as spears and bows and arrows. Yambio is roughly 650 kilometers from the border with South Darfur as the crow flies – much farther in rough and road-less bush country. If these reports are correct, they would suggest either the main body of the LRA has abandoned elements of its forces in the move north, or is still operating in the area where the DRC, CAR and Sudan borders intersect. Other LRA units were simultaneously reported to be carrying out new attacks in the northern DRC (BBC, October 14).

The presence in Darfur of the LRA, which is generally believed to have once been armed and funded by Khartoum in retaliation for Kampala’s support of the SPLA, would be a major embarrassment to President Omar al-Bashir, who is currently facing Darfur-related war crimes charges from the International Criminal Court (ICC). Salah Gosh, a senior presidential advisor who has been tied to war crimes in Darfur in his former capacity as director of Sudan’s National Security and Intelligence Services, accused the SPLA of issuing “fabrications,” adding, “The SPLA knows very well where Kony is” (Sudan Tribune, September 28).

The reports of an LRA entry into Darfur came as Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni invited Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir to an AU summit on refugees held this week in Kampala (New Vision, October 14). Despite Uganda being a signatory to the ICC statute—and thus obligated to enforce the ICC warrant for al-Bashir’s arrest—Museveni said such an act would not be “according to the culture of the Great Lakes region in Africa… We do not believe in surprise attacks.” An ICC representative insisted Uganda had a responsibility to carry out the arrest (Daily Monitor, October 16). The issue was resolved when Sudan decided to send two junior ministers to the summit instead (New Vision, October 19). Sudan has also expressed its willingness to share its expertise in the oil sector with Uganda as the latter begins development of a one-billion barrel oil reserve discovered on the Albertine rift in Uganda (Dow Jones Newswire, October 1; Sudan Tribune, October 2).

This article first appeared in the October 23, 2009 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor

South Sudanese Military Vows to Destroy the Lord’s Resistance Army

Andrew McGregor

September 10, 2009

After being accused of inactivity by residents of Western Equatoria and various humanitarian NGOs, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) will commit additional troops including its Special Forces to eliminate the Lord’s Resistance Army threat to South Sudan. The northern Ugandan group was formed in 1987 and claims to seek the establishment of a Ugandan government based on the Bible and the Ten Commandments. The movement, led by Joseph Kony, has employed remarkable levels of violence and cruelty in its pursuit of these aims. Since being driven from Uganda it has spread out over South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and the Central African Republic (CAR).

SPLA TroopsSPLA Troops in the Field (AFP)

The LRA, once intended to represent Acholi interests in northern Uganda, now appears to have lost the last vestiges of ideological purpose, carrying out atrocities without provocation in several African states but no longer operating in Uganda. Despite determined efforts by Uganda and its regional partners to resolve the conflict, LRA leader Joseph Kony has backed away from every effort to negotiate a settlement.

At present, the 8th Brigade of the SPLA’s 2nd Division (about 3,000 troops) is hunting the Ugandan rebels in platoon-strength units meant to intercept LRA groups of 5 to 10 people over wide swathes of bush country. According to SPLA spokesman Major General Kuol Deim Kuol, the LRA “come to attack the people and take the food and escape back to hide inside the forest in the DRC, like rats… we are seriously planning to track them down and attack them inside their den in the Garamba forests where they run to” (Sudan Radio Service, September 3).

The SPLA is responsible for security in South Sudan under the terms of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement with Khartoum. The Khartoum regime’s former sponsorship of the LRA as a counter to Uganda’s sponsorship of the SPLA during the civil war (1983-2005) has created suspicion in some Southerners that the ruling Islamist National Congress Party (NCP) continues to use the LRA to spread insecurity in the South as the region nears a crucial 2011 referendum on independence. SPLA Major General Kuol Deim Kuol is among them. “We [the SPLA] are saying that the NCP is still keeping up their old good relationship with the LRA. As you know, Joseph Kony [the LRA leader] is the NCP’s darling; he was residing here in Juba [capital of Equatoria Province] until the SPLA came to Juba in 2005 – all this time Kony was staying here with the NCP.” The rebel movement suspended all peace talks in Juba on September 4 (Daily Nation [Nairobi], September 4).

Following the revision of AMISOM’s mandate in Somalia, which changed from “peacekeeping” to “peace-enforcement” in early September to allow it to engage in combat against insurgent forces, the United Nations is considering a similar revision to the mandate of the Mission de l’Organisation des Nations Unies en République démocratique du Congo (MONUC), which would allow it to join the military campaign against the LRA (Garowe Online [Puntland], September 2; New Vision [Kampala], August 27). Changes to the mandate of the United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) are also being contemplated.

The fighting in Western Equatoria is particularly brutal – reportedly short on ammunition, the LRA continues to practice mutilations and amputations with weapons such as machetes to terrify helpless civilians. Local militias that formed to fend off the LRA marauders have also taken to mutilating LRA prisoners in revenge and to dissuade their comrades from returning (Sudan Tribune, March 6).  Known as the “Arrow Boys,” the militias use traditional weapons such as bows and arrows, spears, machetes and clubs to defend their homes from the LRA (Sudan Tribune, January 14, 2008).

The operation against the LRA has now been extended to the Central African Republic (CAR), according to the Uganda People’s Defense Forces (UPDF) (The Monitor [Kampala], September 8). According to a UPDF spokesman, the CAR invited the Ugandans to pursue LRA units in the CAR, where the administration controls little of the country outside the capital of Bangui (New Vision [Kampala], September 7). Kony led nearly 200 followers into the southeastern CAR in February 2008, forming a base at Gbassiguri for forays into South Sudan.

A bipartisan bill, the Lord’s Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act, introduced in the U.S. Senate in May, would require the Obama administration to act on the elimination of the LRA threat and the apprehension or removal of Joseph Kony and his top commanders. Over 50 UPDF officers arrived in Djibouti on September 8 to receive advanced training from the U.S. military (Monitor [Kampala], September 8). Most of the officers are expected to join Ugandan forces in Somalia after the training, but some might be committed to the two decade-old campaign to destroy the LRA.

This article first appeared in the September 10, 2009 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor

Al-Qaeda Planning Strike on Uganda in Retaliation for Somalia Peacekeeping Efforts?

Andrew McGregor

September 24, 2008

Kenyan intelligence reports that fugitive terrorist Fazul Abdullah Muhammad may be planning an attack on Kampala in retaliation for the Ugandan military’s ongoing participation in African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) peacekeeping efforts in Somalia. Ugandan authorities have been notified and remain on high alert (The Standard [Nairobi], September 16).

Fazul Abdullah MuhammadA native of the Comoros Islands, Fazul Abdullah is wanted in connection with a long series of terrorist acts, including the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam, the 2002 truck bombings of the Paradise Hotel in Mombasa, and a failed missile attack on an Israeli airliner the same year. In August the terrorist suspect evaded a Kenyan police dragnet in the coastal town of Malindi where he was reported to be seeking treatment for a kidney ailment, though police captured two of his aides and seized documents and a laptop computer (New Vision [Kampala], September 16; The Standard, September 16).

In a sign of the growing distance between the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) and the more militant al-Shabaab fighters, the ICU issued a detailed statement on September 14 calling on al-Shabaab to abandon their threat to destroy any aircraft using the Mogadishu airport. A Ugandan military plane defied the threat from al-Shabaab, landing amidst a mortar barrage on September 19. The airport has been unused since (Somaliweyn, September 22). Al-Shabaab states the airport is being used to bring in Ugandan and Burundian “occupiers” (New Vision, September 15).

While acknowledging the problems posed to the resistance by AMISOM and Ethiopian military use of the airport, the ICU also noted the benefits to the Somali people through keeping the facility open, including movement in and out of the country, pilgrimage to the holy cities of Saudi Arabia, importation of needed foreign goods and the use of aircraft to send wounded civilians for emergency treatment abroad (, September 14). The appeal has had no response from al-Shabaab so far.

Ugandan bases have been the frequent target of al-Shabaab hit-and-run mortar attacks and their convoys have been attacked by grenades, IEDs and small-arms fire. Two Ugandan soldiers were killed in a September 15 ambush on an AMISOM convoy on the Airport Road, near a Ugandan base. The attackers fired small arms from rooftops along the road. An AMISOM spokesman reported “AMISOM troops once again acted professionally and restrained themselves from firing into buildings that are known to be inhabited by the civilian population” (New Vision, September 15).

On September 22, Somali insurgents launched simultaneous attacks on the two main AMISOM bases in Mogadishu. Though AMISOM reported no casualties, 40 people were killed when shells fell on the city’s Bakara market (BBC, September 22). The previous evening an attack on the Ugandan base was repulsed, though Ugandan mortars were reported to have taken the lives of 18 civilians (Somaliweyn Media Center, September 22).

In an interview with Iranian TV, a spokesman for the Hawiye clan (the largest clan in Mogadishu) accused Ugandan troops of responsibility for the deaths of a large number of civilians. Ahmed Dirie demanded that Uganda withdraw and stop supporting the Transitional Federal Government (Press TV, September 20).

1,600 newly trained Ugandan troops are expected to relieve the current force in Somalia sometime in October. Although the UN specifies a six-month rotation schedule for peacekeepers, the Ugandan force in Mogadishu has not been relieved since their arrival in March 2007. A Ugandan People’s Defence Force spokesman said Uganda has been unable to rotate forces due to ongoing insecurity in Somalia and logistical difficulties (, September 14).

This article first appeared in the September 24, 2008 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Focus