More Ugandan Soldiers Killed in Mogadishu
February 20, 2011 1 Comment
In the old Maslax military barracks, Al-Shabaab displayed the corpses of two Ugandan soldiers killed in Mogadishu’s street battles. The soldiers, along with their equipment, identity cards, photos, personal belongings and bibles, are believed to have been captured by Al-Shabab fighters yesterday after an intense 14-hour battle that broke out between the opposing forces in the city’s famous Makka Al-Mukarrama street.
Makka Al Mukkarama is perhaps the most important road in Mogadishu, serving as a vital artery that connects the Presidential Palace to Mogadishu airport. Being the only major road, out of Mogadishu’s four main roads, that is not directly controlled by Al-Shabaab, the African Union soldiers try to guard it very closely – for losing this central artery to Al-Shabaab would have some very unfavourable consequences for the AU soldiers as well as the Somali government. Local radio stations are reporting the deaths of more than 15 Ugandan soldiers and dozens of TFG soldiers, particularly from the regiments that were recently trained in Uganda and who have formed a cosy alliance with the UPDF soldiers in Mogadishu.
But while the battles have been intense here over the last few years, it is not exactly considered a stalemate yet. Every inch is a victory in its own regard. And while the innocent civilians in Bakara market bear the brunt of African Union’s mortar rounds, the battle in Mogadishu is a close-combat type of urban warfare. Defence posts of the opposing forces are often very few meters away from each other, with sandbags and cement serving as defence shields for the combatants. Buildings pulverized by rocket-propelled grenades cover the stretch of the war zone, while a maze of underground tunnels and trenches meander through the abandoned streets.
For nearly a month now the city has been rather quiet. AMISOM’s shelling of residential areas had ceased temporarily and the ill-omened sound of mortars and rockets had somewhat faded. But with the Somali government still keen to wrestle Mogadishu out of the Islamists’ hands, the battles continued to simmer in the trenches and conference halls. It is mostly a fiery war of words though that rages in Mogadishu more than the actual warfare. During his first 100 days in office, Prime Minister Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed ‘Farmaajo’, vowed to crush the Islamists and take control of Mogadishu. Now more than 80 days have gone by but the government has yet no more than a few blocks to claim.
The AU forces were not less audacious in their flamboyant speeches. Only a few days ago AMISOM spokesman, Major Barigye Ba-Hoku, gave an interview to a local radio station and elaborated on his plans of expanding AU military bases in the capital. What both the AU forces and the Somali government did not take into account, however, was the level of ‘competency’ of their soldiers in order to reach their potential goals. Underpaid and severely demoralized, the TFG soldiers, having perceived the political impasse that threatens to destroy and tear the country apart, can no longer muster the morale to fight the fervent Islamists.
The AU forces on the other hand appear to be drained and physically debilitated by the constant fighting. They have not yet fully realised the scale of the battle in Mogadishu and are perhaps more suited to fighting in the jungle rather than this close-quarters, room-to-room, hit-and-run constant urban street battles. Their commanders, however, rush ahead, heedlessly, with chest-thumping and courage-filled words only to come to a poignant realization, with the bullet of consciousness pricking their psyche, when their soldiers begin falling one after the other.
Mogadishu is a merciless place. I wish they’d mentioned that to the poor soldiers before they deploy them here or at least mention it somewhere in the booklet.