More than 1,700 Ugandan Army troops scheduled to take part in peacekeeping operations in Somalia recently completed a training course taught by French Foreign Legion instructors. In Singo County, Uganda, the instructors are finding that turning the Ugandans into disciplined peacekeepers is no easy task.
It is graduation day of sorts for the Ugandan Army's Battle Group Five. The soldiers have just completed the first part of their training for a mission that is arguably one of the toughest and most dangerous in the world.
In May, they're headed to Mogadishu, Somalia to replace another Ugandan contingent serving there as part of the African Union's peacekeeping mission known as AMISOM. Uganda's Army Chief, Lieutenant General Edward Katumba Wamala, reminded the new graduates that ignoring what they've learned could be costly. "How much you take to the skills and ready to employ them could determine whether you come back alive, you yourself, or whether the unit itself survives the mission or the mission, in totality, survives," he said.
For the past five weeks, French and Belgian instructors with the French Foreign Legion in Djibouti have drilled the Ugandans on military basics.
Other courses were tailored more toward peacekeeping, such as convoy protection and search missions for al-Qaida-linked militants. Al-Shabab has waged a fierce three year-long war against AMISOM and the U.N.-backed government in Mogadishu.
The Ugandans also learned about improvised explosive devices, or IEDs. They have become increasingly more sophisticated in Somalia, thanks to knowledge shared by militants in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The French military has trained Ugandan peacekeepers since their first deployment in Somalia in early 2007. Lieutenant Colonel Gabriel Rouselle says the Ugandans have made significant progress toward becoming one of the top armed forces in Africa. "This army is very serious -- maybe not as European forces are professional. It is not easy to compare. But UPDF has good discipline and the soldiers and the officers are very willing," he said.
But in Mogadishu there are plenty of critics who complain that Ugandan troops in Somalia often lack discipline and blame them for hundreds of deaths. They say Ugandans rely too much on artillery, tank and rocket fire to defend themselves. The Ugandans say such reports are wildly exaggerated.
Private military contractors from the United States will soon arrive to complete the Ugandans' training. The U.S., A.U. and European European count heavily on the Ugandans for the peacekeeping mission in Somalia. They make up half of the 5,300 member AMISOM force there.