Two decades ago, on 3rd and 4th October 1993, the United States lost 18 Special Forces soldiers and over 80 wounded in a UN mission to secure trade routes for delivery of humanitarian supplies and food to the insurgent ravaged Somalis. The US dubbed it ‘’Operation Restore Hope’’ in the restive south of Mogadishu, Somalia.
The deaths took place after a 17 hour long battle at Olympic Hotel in a desperate search for Mohammed Farrah Hassan Aideed, a notorious clan leader who was a military commander and political head of United Somali congress (USC).
It’s America’s most humiliating and memorable carnage of her soldiers in African soils and the longest, most bloody battle for its troops since the Vietnam War before the War in Iraq.
It inspired The New York Times article ‘‘Details of U.S. Raid in Somalia: Success So Near, a Loss So Deep’’ on October 25th, 1993. ‘‘the casualties, and the images of a dead American soldier being dragged through Mogadishu after the raid, prompted President Clinton to order a withdrawal from Somalia within six months.’’ The article read in part.
It further observed that the Somalia battlefield experience then aided in shaping of memory and public opinion and sharply served to influence the United States foreign policy.
America learned a lesson. America was humbled.
That is not the big picture I want to unveil; but rather the one that begs a question; if there is any reason a Ugandan citizen should die in Somalia.
Since the UPDF deployed troops in Somalia in March 2007—the biggest contributor of men in boots in the horn of African nation, the number of deaths can hardly be verified.
UPDF previously deployed in DRC, South Sudan in 2013 when the oil rich nation registered chaos after a political divide between President Salva Kiir and Riek Machar, CAR in pursuit of rebel leader Joseph Kony inter alia.
In all those missions, the upshot is casualty after another but always covered by government powerful Public Relations machinery.
Next to nothing is known about those left decomposing in battlefields, those captured, humiliated and tortured beyond breaking point before execution.
With all fatalities borne by the UPDF, Uganda has never even dreamt of withdrawing her soldiers. Regional stability is vital, yes, but why are we the ones contributing the largest numbers of soldiers every year?
This provokes great temptation to think government feels it has enough population to offer as sacrificial lambs on battlefield alters.
But that is not the only grotesque picture. What about the side of UN, AU and the West in whose interest innocent blood is poured? What benefits are offered to the families of the deceased soldiers? Or is it about reciting useless rhetoric inundated with praise-words of courage, bravery, patriotism and heroism?
Or they actually offer this benefits but get clogged up at the labyrinth bureaucracy of big tummies who rarely feel the ugly stench of frontline Sulphur.
Well in the beginning of this mission, every soldier was salivating to board a gunship. With a hope to afford erecting a permanent structure and a second hand vehicle. Miming a comfortable life. The pay was moderately handsome, but through the years, it has come lazily waning. But compared to the meagre salaries they receive back at home, it is always better to put a life on the line at the front line for the shabaab militants.
When fallen soldiers’ cadavers arrived at Entebbe Military Air Base, it was a somber moment.
Soldiers looked on. Lost in thought of their own fate. Unware who the next lamb would be. And when the high priest would take one after another.
In total disregard of the dead valorous soldiers, even the president could not receive their remains at the Military Auxiliary Force base.
To make the already bad situation worse, adequate facilitation to send off the dead was not provided by the government. Media reported incidences in Northern Uganda where Families were straight-jacketed to even feed mourners who turned up to pay their last respects.
Government should negotiate for compensation of dead soldiers’ families because their sons died in a country they never swore to protect–Uganda’s military foreign policy needs a second thought.