South Sudan rebel leader, Riek Machar, seems to be warming up favourably in President Yoweri Museveni’s circles.
The two leaders since the outbreak of the South Sudan civil war in December 2013, have been at parallel political and ideological lines.
At the close December 2013, President Museveni flew to Juba where he warned Machar to embrace a ceasefire suggested by that country’s government or face “defeat” by the regional forces.
“We gave Riek Machar four days to respond (to the ceasefire offer) and if he doesn’t we shall have to go for him, all of us. That is what we agreed in Nairobi,” he told reporters in Juba.
Machar ignored the president’s threats and continued capturing major towns of Bor in Jonglei, Malakal in Upper Nile and Bentiu in Unity states.
During the peace talks in the following year , Machar demanded that Museveni withdraws UPDF from South Sudan which the Ugandan leader downplayed.
Machar then resolved to boycott peace talks until his demand was met.
The International Community and Intergovernmental Authority on Development [IGAD] forced Museveni to withdraw his troops.
It is reported that during one of those IGAD sessions, Museveni allegedly “begged” Machar to let him withdraw the troops at night “to lessen the humiliation”.
Even before the 2013 conflict, Museveni was reportedly on bad terms with Machar over Lord’s Resistance Army rebels who were being hidden in Equatoria region of South Sudan.
Machar has since denied all links with warlord Joseph Kony.
Machar who has been accusing Museveni of siding with President Salva Kiir in the South Sudan conflict is now calling upon the same leader for help.
At the start of the week, Machar flew from Addis Ababa to Kampala to meet Museveni over the failing peace process implementation and the formation of the transitional government which has delayed.
The two leaders met at Masindi State Lodge in Masindi municipality on Monday.
Machar was escorted by a 15 member delegation that included Ms. Angelina Teny the Chairperson of SPLM national committee for Security and Defense, Ambassador Ezekeil Lol Gatkuoth the SPLM chairperson for the national committee on foreign affairs and Dr. Peter Odwok the SPLM national chairperson for the committee for training and research among other, and John Garang’s son, Mabior Garang Mabior.
Machar on Tuesday told press in Kampala that during the meeting with Museveni, the two leaders agreed on a cooperation between the ruling NRM and the SPLM [IO] movements.
Museveni reportedly concurred with Machar that Kiir’s 28 states were a hindrance to the formation of a transitional government and the implementation of the peace process.
Thirdly, Museveni also concurred with the rebel leader that there was need to lift the state of emergency imposed by Kiir so opposition officials can move freely in the country.
Machar further told press that Museveni had agreed to help with the implementation of the peace agreement signed in August last year.
Why turn to Museveni?
Asked by press why he was turning to Museveni for help, Machar said the Ugandan leader has been actively involved in the South Sudan conflict and should see it to the end.
He said when an alleged coup was reported on December 15, 2013, Museveni deployed Ugandan troops [UPDF] that took sides with the Juba government.
“When he [Museveni] later realized that there was no coup, he took the role of mediator,” Machar told reporters in Kampala on Tuesday.
“At the Addis Ababa peace talks, President Museveni told the other regional leaders that there was no coup in Juba.”
Machar said as a mediator, Museveni had a role of convincing President Kiir to scrap the states, respect the peace agreement, implement it and ensure a unity government is formed.
Museveni was also instrumental in the breakaway of South Sudan from the Arab-dominated North and its final independence.
“When he realized there was no coup, he agreed to withdraw his troops except those in Equatoria fighting LRA rebels,” Machar continued, saying Museveni was already engaged in persevering South Sudan as well as regional peace.
“That is why we came to ask him to assist us and implement the peace agreement.”
Special Forces guard Machar
As a sign of renewed friendship and goodwill, Machar was guarded although by Uganda’s elite unit, the Special Forces Command [SFC].The special unit was seen holding intimidating guns at Khalifa Suites in Bugolobi, a Kampala suburb.
They drove in front and behind Machar’s convoy from Masindi to Kampala and to Entebbe airport.
At Khalifa suites, Machar’s personal guards were also tailing him step by step in and out of the hotel, holding big weapons.
Outside the hotel and on all entrances were Uganda Special Forces soldiers, highly on the alert.
It is not wrong to point out that in Uganda, Machar was protected like a president.
Journalists who covered his press conference were thoroughly checked and warned against making unnecessary recordings with phones.
There was also an attempt to restrict the use of phones at all by those who wanted to tweet the conference live.
The Uganda Special Forces that guarded the rebel chief is a personal presidential guard that answers only to the first son, Brig Muhoozi Kainerugaba, who is also its overall commander.
The Special Unit is in charge of heavy artillery section, marines and airforce, to mention but a few.
Special Forces Post-1986
President Yoweri Museveni, the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, recounted recently that the present Special Forces Command (SFC) metamorphosized out of the High Command Unit (HCU) that was established in May 1981, at Kyererezi, Kapeeka (in the present day Nakaseeke District).
This was in the early days of the war of resistance against the dictatorship of Milton Obote.
Indeed, it was soon after the launch of the NRA guerrilla war on the 6th of February 1981.
The HCU was tasked with guarding the Chairman of the High Command as well as carrying out other special missions and operations.
The first commander of the HCU, at that time about the size of an infantry platoon, was Commander Robert Kabuura.
The late Akanga Byaruhanga soon assumed command of the HCU in those days of struggle.
Five years later in 1986 when the NRA/NRM captured power, the HCU was renamed the Presidential Protection Unit (PPU).
It had grown to the size of a few companies (about 400 soldiers). The first commander of the renamed PPU was Lt. Col. Akanga Byaruhanga (RIP).
After Kampala fell (on the 26th of January 1986), the NRA was able to secure the rest of the country by about the end of March 1986.
In August of 1986, the defeated forces of the dictatorships (supported by some of Uganda’s neighbours) launched a counter-revolution which continued in different forms for another 20 years.
This counter-revolution was mainly based in northern Uganda with the insurgency of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) being the last and most effective of these counter-revolutionary efforts.
Therefore with the new challenges of fighting the counter-revolutionary forces, the PPU eventually expanded into a Brigade (three battalions or more).
This expansion also led to an increase in responsibilities, the PGB was not only directed to continue protecting the President but also to defend the country and constitutional order.
In this expanded role PGB participated in counter-insurgency operations in northern and western Uganda on the express orders of the President.
The SFC has participated in virtually all NRA/UPDF counter-insurgency operations since the capture of power in 1986, starting with the total defeat of the counter-revolutionary forces that attempted to make a comeback in August of 1986.
These included the Uganda Peoples’ Democratic Army (UPDA), Alice Lakwena’s Holy Spirit Movement (HSM), and the LRA.
From 2001-2006 the SFC participated in Operation Iron Fist that destroyed the LRA bases in Southern Sudan, in places like Birinyang, Kony Village, Lubangatek, etc.
When the LRA tried to invade the Teso region in 2003, the SFC alongside regular UPDF units got engaged, eventually defeating these terrorists and chasing them out of Teso and Lango.
In 2007, about 100 Allied Democratic Forces rebels (ADF) re-infiltrated Uganda.
Working with 2nd Division units, a commando force from 1 Commando Battalion was dispatched to hunt the group down; when battle was joined the small commando force literally annihilated the terrorists at a battle at Semiliki National Park in Bundibugyo District.
Later on in 2008, the SFC was instrumental in the destruction of LRA bases in Eastern DRC; the operation was codenamed ‘Operation Lightening Thunder’.
SFC units, since 2011, have also been active in the African Union Peace Keeping Operation in Somalia (AMISOM) and played a key role in the liberation of Mogadishu and other areas from the strangle-hold of the extremist terrorist organization Al-Shabaab.
In particular, numerous Al Shabaab fighters were neutralized by SFC snipers in the Battle for Mogadishu (July-August 2011).
The SFC continues to have an important role in intelligence and psychological operations in Somalia, and also regularly carries out raids and cordon and search operations.
[Additional information from SFC website]