Uganda: August 11, 2003


: Occasionally the Ugandan government issues weekly and monthly casualty updates on the war in northern Uganda. Over time it appears that Uganda is making an effort to sort through initial government and press reports, which are usually unreliable, and provide more reliable figures that reflect the human and economic costs. That's a laudable effort anywhere, but particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. Uganda has said it intends to professionalize the military and this is a small but definite indication that someone is taking professionalization seriously. Uganda, of course, is open to outside journalists and has a cadre of home-grown journalists, so government claims do get scrutinized. The NGOs operating throughout Uganda are another means of checking claims. From August 3 through August 9 Uganda reported thirty-nine people were killed in the war with the LRA. The Ugandan government claims 19 LRA killed (most apparently in the armor and helicopter-supported "mobile group" action last week). Sixteen civilians died during the seven day span. One Ugandan soldier died in action and one was wounded. The government also claimed its troops freed 97 abductees, half of them in an operation on August 9. What do the numbers mean? Once again, given Uganda's population and fragile economy, this is a major, draining war. A Ugandan government spokesman said that the LRA has broken down into smaller groups of ten to 15 fighters. One reason is the increasing number of helicopter gunships operating over the savanna. Another reason is food. The Ugandan government believes the LRA rebels are currently short of food. That means the LRA has broken down into squad-sized "forage parties" --- in this case meaning food-stealing bandit gangs. Note, too, that Uganda has been complaining bitterly to Sudan about alleged Sudanese support for the LRA. That "diplomatic offensive" began in the Spring. It's conceivable the diplomacy has had some effect on LRA supplies. (Austin Bay)

[Editor's note: In Austin Bay's new novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, you'll meet Major Ran Pildi, of Ugandan military intelligence.]




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