Ugandan army spokesperson, Lt Col Paddy Ankunda, has finally spoken on soldiers killed in an Al Shabaab attack in southern Somalia.
Western military officials told diplomats in a briefing that 50 African Union soldiers were killed and another 50 are missing after al-Shabaab militants overran a military camp in southern Somalia on Tuesday.
The attack on the camp in Janale, 80 kilometres (50 miles) southwest of Mogadishu in the Lower Shabelle region and manned by Ugandan troops, now ranks as one of the deadliest yet against AMISOM troops.
“It is assessed that at least 50 AMISOM troops died,” said a briefing note sent to diplomats by Western military officials and seen by AFP.
It said that in total around 100 soldiers were “unaccounted for” after the attack.
Somalia’s Al-Qaeda affiliate, which has recently lost a string of key bases in the face of an AMISOM offensive, said the attack was revenge for the killing of seven civilians by Ugandan troops at a wedding in the town of Merka in July.
The number feared dead matches that claimed by a Shabaab spokesman, although the AU force—which numbers over 22,000 and also includes troops from Ethiopia, Kenya, Burundi and Djibouti—has said it has not yet counted the dead.
Uganda army speaks
In a statement Thursday morning, Ankunda said only 12 soldiers from Uganda were killed and not 50 as earlier reported.
He said their bodies will be received today at Entebbe international airport to be accorded a descent send off.
“Friends, relatives, all peace loving Ugandans: UPDF heroes who died in an al shabaab vehicle-borne explosive will arrive at Entebbe today—–Twelve soldiers died, ten are landing this morning, two more to follow.”
Ankunda says AMISOM has accounted for all its soldiers and none is missing in action from Janaale attack.
“We will not relent in our efforts to help in the pacification of Somalia despite the attack.”
He added: “This attack is a game changer, al shabaab can only expect an appropriate response from UPDF.”
Ankunda says the army delayed confirming the reports because they needed to inform the deceased’s next of kin before spreading it all over in media.
“I understand but next of kin had to be informed first instead of learning about it from TV.”
AMISOM too clarifies
AMISOM spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Paul Njuguna, says a bridge that was taken by al-Shabab was taken back in less than half an hour.
He denied reports that Al Shabaab took the base.
“We have been in this operation for a long time, we are engaged with people who are engaged in asymmetric warfare. From time to time you will have situations where they will try to attack our position but most of the times, as you have seen, we have been able to fight back. We been able to take over many towns and liberate them as well. The nature of the operations we are undergoing is such that we shall get attacked once in a while but we will always be able to wrestle back and at least defend our areas of operations,” he told a reporter.
He said AMISOM forces are motivated to do what they do.
“That’s why we have been successful since we started operation ‘Ego’ and now we are ‘Jubba Corridor’, the morale of our soldiers has been the same. Of course that is enhanced by the success we have had. When soldiers are successful, the morale is always high.”
He continued: “I’m sure in the last week you have seen that we have been visited by the Deputy Chief of Defense Forces from UPDF [Ugandan People’s Defense Force] and this weekend by the army commander from Kenya. These visits increased morale, the morale of AMISOM is very high. It is important that you visit us in Somalia, because the security situation is getting better by the day. AMISOM facilitates for media houses to visit us in Somalia and we would want to see more of you coming to visit us, so you can tell the story from the ground.”