By Maj. Chris Magezi
Towards the close of January 9, 2017, deep in the night, the President and Commander-In-Chief of the armed forces, Gen. Yoweri Museveni, announced wide ranging changes in the command structure of the UPDF. Gen. Edward Katumba Wamala, an officer with 37 years of military service up his sleeve, was transferred to the Ministry of Works and replaced by Gen. David Muhoozi, who was promoted from Major General and moved from his previous position as the Commander of the Land Forces to Chief of the Defense Forces (CDF), Uganda’s highest military office.
As well as the CDF, the President appointed a new Deputy CDF, a new Joint Chief of Staff, and several other chiefs and heads of departments. The transfers and appointments also affected the two main services of the military, that is; the land and air forces, as well as some strategic formations such as the Field Artillery Division, Air Defense Division, and the Special Forces Command (SFC).
Maj. Gen. Muhoozi Kainerugaba was transferred from his position as the Commander of the Special Forces Command to Senior Presidential Advisor for Special Operations, after serving as head of the elite UPDF unit for seven years, one of the longest tours of duty in the unit’s history. Only Col. Akanga Byaruhanga (RIP) served longer, from 1984 to 1993. The formation was then known as the High Command Unit (HCU) and then the Presidential Protection Unit (PPU). Maj. Gen. Kainerugaba was replaced by Col. Don. Nabasa in acting capacity, previously the commander of 1 Special Forces Group (1 SFG).
The SFC mission (www.specialforcescommand.go.ug), states: “to develop and operate a powerful and versatile special operations force that is situated within the unique Ugandan way of war and is responsive to the requirements of the UPDF and the nation.” No one has encapsulated, and granted greater meaning to this stated objective in the context and history of the Ugandan Special Forces, than General Kainerugaba. Under his command, the SFC has grown tremendously in organization, competence and lethality so much so that today it is recognized as a strategic and indispensable element available to the military leadership and the defense forces in military operations.
Indeed, the entry of the Special Forces on the battlefield of Mogadishu in July 2011 against Al Shaabab militants significantly altered the balance of power in favor of the African Union forces under AMISOM, rapidly neutralizing enemy snipers and dismantling the terrorist group’s command and operational centers in the ruined Somali city.
When fighting broke out in Juba between President Kiir’s and Riek Machar’s rival forces in December 2013, the SFC deployed, within 48 hours of a directive from the Commander-in-Chief. They were the tip of the UPDF spear and were able to hold the ground until an expeditionary force could be organized to join them. They quickly secured the international airport and other government installations in the South Sudanese capital. Not only were thousands of Ugandans and foreign nationals working in South Sudan successfully evacuated, but a potentially dreadful bloodbath among warring ethnic groups in the capital was averted in time.
Internally, the SFC has participated in virtually all NRA/UPDF counter insurgency operations since 1986, starting with the total defeat of the counter-revolutionary forces that attempted to make a comeback in August of that year in Bibia in the then Gulu District. Since then, the SFC (under various names) has engaged and successfully contributed to decisive combat operations against the insurgents of the Lord’s Resistance Army (or more aptly the ‘Devil’s Resistance Army’) in northern Uganda and the Allied Democratic Forces in western Uganda/DR Congo.
Key development infrastructure projects, especially training schools and accommodation facilities necessary for sustained institutional growth and stability have been the hallmark of Gen. Kainerugaba’s tenure as commander. The Special Forces now boasts of 3 fully fledged training institutions that will serve Uganda’s future Special Forces operators for a long time: Fort Kasenyi in Entebbe for the Presidential Security Division (VIP protection), Amilcar Cabral Airborne School in Nakasongola, and Fort Samora Machel Special Forces School for Commandos in Kaweweta, Nakaseke District. Fort Samora is the first ever such Special Forces qualification school in the country.
The SFC, as a specialized component of the UPDF tasked with carrying out specialized missions, is now mature, albeit with room to prosper even further. As a result, there are now ongoing discussions at policy level of government to transform the SFC into the third UPDF service, after the Land and Air forces. Once implemented, this will be in line with modern military thinking around the world, where for instance the Marines, Special Forces, or Strategic Missile forces maybe organized as services.
From independence in 1962 to 1986, the history of the various manifestations of the Uganda Army had different Special Forces units. They earned a notorious reputation for brutality and viciousness against the population. What were called “Special Forces” were in fact para-military forces that were formed for political reasons. Therefore, those so called “Special Forces” were consequently behind some of the most heinous and extra-judicial killings ever witnessed in the political and military history of Uganda. This is a far cry from actual Special Forces organizations.
In purely military and operational terms, special operations (conducted by special operations forces) are characterized as operations conducted in hostile, denied or politically sensitive environments to achieve military, diplomatic, informational and economic objectives for which there may be no broad conventional force requirement (by ‘conventional’ here we mean ‘regular’ army). These operations, sometimes behind enemy lines, often require covert, clandestine or low visibility capabilities. None of the post independence Uganda para-military forces under Amin or Obote ever, in the remotest terms, came close to attaining these specialized military capabilities. Today’s SFC is meeting the requirements of modern Special Forces organizations conscientiously; they are alert to the challenges and have proven themselves capable of achieving set goals. That is a welcome development for any military establishment.
In a nutshell, the SFC, from its humble beginnings, is now a major component of the defense forces. It has proved of significant strategic value to the UPDF and will continue to grow and improve its tactical proficiency.
The Writer is the Spokesman, UPDF Special Forces Command