Uganda: January 12, 2004

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The two controversial MI-24 helicopter gunships, which were returned to Belarus for overhaul are back in the country ready for deployment against the LRA. Recent victories against the rebels have been attributed to the pinpoint strikes by MI-24 helicopters, often deployed in combined arms operations with infantry units supported by mortars. 

The undisclosed cost of the overhaul was paid by the Government and "those implicated in the earlier deal of bringing in un-overhauled choppers will face prosecution." In 1997, the Government paid over $7 million to purchase two attack helicopters in serious need of overhaul. 

The last combined air-ground operation was both a success and setback for the army. An air raid on January 5 on a top rebel commanders' meeting at the confluence of River Aswa and River Agago (in an area about 80 kilometers from Gulu, the nearest sizable town) killed two senior LRA officers. Lieutenant Colonels Opio Makasi, commander of the LRA's 2nd Battalion of the Twinkle Brigade, was one of the dead.

Later that morning, an Mi-17 chopper (known locally as a "Surambaya") flying journalists to the spot crashed when ash and debris kicked up by the rotor wash disoriented the pilot. All 16 about the chopper (including the three journalists) were injured, and a soldier on the ground securing the landing zone was cut in two by one of the aircraft's blades. 

The jungle meeting was to be chaired by "Brig" Vincent Otti, the vice-chairman of the Lord's Resistance Movement/Army. Nine other rebels were killed in the fierce ground and air bombing attack that morning. Vincent Otti is considered a high value target by the army, number two after Joseph Kony. During the attack, the army captured 18 rebels and rescued 20 child captives. Since December 31, 2003, 39 LRA rebels have been killed. - Adam Geibel



 

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