American military advisers in Uganda are drawing on lessons learned from Iraq and Afghanistan to help train African Union soldiers to fight Somalia’s most powerful insurgent group, al Shabab.
Earlier this year, a small contingent of US Marines joined American military contractors at a training base nestled in Uganda’s rolling countryside about 2 1/2 hours drive from the capital, helping fill gaps where the al Qaida-linked fighters have found weaknesses.
The base, called Singo, was built by the US and is a key part of the Obama administration’s strategy to bring stability to Somalia.
The United States has sent in only small units of Special Forces to attack al Qaida members in Somalia or hostage-taking pirates since US troops withdrew from the nation in 1994, while other African countries have deployed thousands of troops to bring order to a country plagued by lawlessness, insurgents and hunger.
Many of the American trainers give firsthand knowledge of what works and what does not from years of learning to deal with improvised explosives, fighting insurgents in cities and other experiences from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Al Shabab militants recently figured out how to take out AU tanks with the help of makeshift obstacles and traps, so a group of about 20 Marine reservists is now in the middle of a 10-week programme teaching Ugandan forces combat engineering skills, like ways to quickly bridge trenches to permit the tanks to pass.
On a recent day at the base, three US military medical specialists showed how to properly apply a tourniquet in a combat situation and other medical skills.
The State Department’s training program also includes marksmanship, urban warfare and explosives handling.
“We’ve been experiencing some really ugly things for the past 10 years, so we’re taking that experience over here,” said Major Mark Haley, 41, from Knoxville, Tennessee.
“We’re giving these guys some real important skill sets to keep them alive when they get sent over there.”