Planned Al-Shabaab assault takes major hit after chopper mishapBy ALEX B. ATUHAIRE | Monday, August 13 2012 at 18:58
The AU Mission in Somalia's plan for the final assault on the key Somali port city of Kismayu could be hauled back to the drawing board after three of four Ugandan attack helicopters headed to shore up the meticulously planned operation were involved in a serious mishap over Kenyan airspace.
Two of the three Russian-made Mi-24 attack helicopters were still missing by Monday evening, while the other crash-landed in the thick forest slopes of Mount Kenya in central Kenya.
Uganda military spokesperson Col. Felix Kulayigye told reporters in Kampala that the fourth –a Mi-17 transport helicopter with 13 crew-- had made it to Mogadishu.
Military sources said Tuesday that the three Mi-24 choppers were badly damaged and would most likely be written off.
Military sources say the mishap in which the helicopters, bought expensively by Uganda in 2011, would significantly affect the plan to attack Kismayu as the Ugandan air wing was to lead planned airstrikes.
The Kenyan contingent in the mission was charged with naval operations while both countries were moving ground troops to squeeze the Al-Qaeda-allied militants.
Kismayu is reported to be the financial and logistical hub for the terror group and is their last remaining stronghold after a series of territorial losses on the battleground.
Sources said that the assault on Kismayu, which started over the weekend with aerial surveillance and reconnaissance flights conducted by Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), or drones, could be postponed.
The commanders were yesterday re-called back to Nairobi for a series of crisis meetings expected to start at the weekend.
Amisom spokesperson Eloi Yao Monday said he was not in position to comment about the mishap and how it would affect the plan for Kismayu. He declined further comment.
The AU forces, fighting alongside Somali government troops, were expected to start a major assault on Kismayu, the remaining stronghold of the Al-Shabaab by the end of this week.
The Ugandan and Burundian contingents were expected to support Kenyan ground troops with four infantry battalions.
Some of these troops are already on their way to Kismayu, having taken control of Afgoye and a string of coastal villages in Lower Juba region to the south.
Other troops were to be inserted into battle by air using the Mi-17 transport choppers.
The seemingly sophisticated and well-choreographed military strategy designed was agreed after top commanders of the reshaped African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom) concluded their planning meetings on August 9 in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi.
The field commanders from Kenya, Uganda and Burundi had flown back to their bases on Friday morning, awaiting for the air wing combat and transport reinforcements.
The assault, which will include air and naval strikes to support the ground troops, was earlier meant to start by August 8, but was pushed back after field commanders were asked to modify their strategy following a series of meetings in July in Nairobi, including a comprehensive brief for the regional army chiefs that took place on July 23 in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.
The three choppers are believed part of the six jetfighters that the Ugandan defence ministry, under President Yoweri Museveni's directive in early 2011, withdrew a reported $400 million from the Central Bank to pay for, without parliamentary approval.
The whole transaction cost a total of $74 million, drawing the criticism of Uganda central bank governor Emnanuel Tumusiime-Mutebile.
Col. Kulayigye denied reports that there was foul play or the incident could have been as a result of poor training of the crew.
"The Kenyan airspace is safe," he said.
Each of the four helicopters had a seven-man crew when they were flagged off by the Chief of Ugandan Defence Forces Gen. Aronda Nyakairima on August 6.
According to a route chart – the aircraft were expected to fly to Mogadishu – through Soroti flying school in eastern Uganda, Eldoret airport, Laikipia, and Wajir all in Kenya – before refuelling and flying to Baidoa base in Somalia where they would arm from.
They would then fly on to the Somali capital.
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