Brig.Paul Lokech, who has completed his second tour of duty in Somalia as the UPDF contingent commander thinks the horn of Africa country will never be the same again following the intervention by AMISOM.
In 2007, the UPDF was the first force to deploy in the war torn Somalia under the African Union Mission for Somalia (Amisom) and was by then controlling less than 10 per cent of the battered capital Mogadishu the biggest part being in the hands of the Al Shabaab militants.
During his tenure as contingent commander for the UPDF AMISOM between 2011 and 2012, Lokech is credited for having broken the back of the Islamic militants in Mogadishu.
In an interview with the Nile Post, Lokech said by the time the Ugandan army entered Somalia, Mogadishu was in a state of anarchy and had been ruined by war, a state which has been turned around.
“Al Shabaab was embedded in the urban area but we were able to break their backs. Everyone doubted our capability when we first landed here but 11 years after what had been described as a mission dead on arrival, everyone sees the gains,”Brig Lokech said.
“Somalia will never be the same again. Mogadishu will never be a safe haven for Al Shabaab and any other terrorist group again as it was in the past before our intervention.”
When the UPDF deployed in Somalia, the situation was quite different from what was happening elsewhere on various peacekeeping missions.
They faced too much hostility from the Al-Shabaab insurgents and it meant the Ugandan army had deploy combat artillery which are rarely applied under normal peacekeeping operations.
Lion of Mogadishu roars
When asked to comment about the war with the Al Shabaab insurgents, Brig. Lokech speaks about his various battles with the Islamic terrorists with pride and vigor.
He says by the time he was deployed in Somalia, he was a replacement for the then commander, Brig.Michael Ondoga, whose term was cut short to allow him attend a course.
“While leaving for the mission, ours was a counter insurgency but reaching here, we had to adapt to the situation on ground. We had to take the war to the enemy,”Lokech says.
“We had to first take room by room, house by house and then street by street to be able to manage the enemy.”
In one of the fiercest battles, in 2011, the Al Shabaab militants were expelled from Bakara market, which was one of the insurgents’ strongholds in Mogadishu.
It was during one of these battles that Lokech got the nodding of the Somalis for helping expel the insurgents who controlled the Bakara market.
He was nick named the ‘Lion of Mogadishu’ for daring and succeeding in expelling Al Shabaab.
Speaking about the battle, Brig.Lokech said it was never an easy job because the enemy had dug tunnels that were not easy to maneuver but they later succeeded.
“By September 2011, we liberated Bakara market and Al Shabaab had no option but to flee. That time the tactics they (Al Shabaab) had were conventional, we moved onto them and we succeeded.”
He says the insurgents tried to attack the UPDF but were beaten badly never to return.
“They made a blunder and made an attack at us at Afgooye and we beat them. We gave them a bloody nose.”
Asked to compare his first tour of duty in Somalia and the second one, Lokech said the two periods were quite different because during the second one, the UPDF had been joined by forces from other countries including Ethiopia, Burundi and Djibouti among others.
“In my second tour of duty, a lot had changed. We created Forward Operating Bases to guard the main supply route. The Al Shabaab too had changed techniques and are now using Improvised Explosive Devices(IEDs) and Vehicle borne Improvised Explosive Devices to disrupt the main supply route.”
He however said that early this year, the Al Shabaab militants were given a bloody nose when they tried to attack some of the UPDF’s forward operating bases on Easter.
“They were baldy defeated and I hope they will not do it again.”
11 years of UPDF AMISOM
Speaking about the 11 years that the UPDF has spent in Somalia under the AMISOM, Brig.Lokech says this period has raised the Ugandan flag high above for everyone to see and appreciate the work done during that period.
“Somalis now hold Ugandans high and deep in their (Somalis) hearts they know we played a great role in ensuring their have their sovereignty back.”
According to the outgoing UPDF contingent commander, business is now booming in Somalia whereas Mogadishu international airport handles between 70 and 100 flights every day.
Salutes fallen comrades
Brig.Lokech however feels sorry for some of the Uganda troops who have lost lives during the 11 years that UPDF has been in Somalia.
He says their blood has not been lost for nothing.
“Even the Bible says that those who have died for peace will automatically be rewarded in heaven. They died for a purpose and because of them, Somalia will never be the same again,” Brig. Lokech said.
Brig. Paul Lokech last month completed his second, one year tour of duty in Somalia as the contingent commander for the UPDF.
Currently, UPDF is in charge of the biggest area among the troops from various countries deployed in Somalia under AMISOM.
The Ugandan troops are deployed in Sector One in Benadir,(has 16 districts) Banadir, and Lower Shabelle regions having pushed Al Shabaab militants for over 200km away from Mogadishu city.