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Gun scarcity prolonged NRA war

By Vision Reporter

Added 9th February 2003 03:00 AM

Last Thursday marked 22 years since the National Resistance Army (NRA) launched the liberation war with just 27 guns. From the beginning, their main source of armoury was the government soldiers.

Last Thursday marked 22 years since the National Resistance Army (NRA) launched the liberation war with just 27 guns. From the beginning, their main source of armoury was the government soldiers.

By Joshua Kato

Last Thursday marked 22 years since the National Resistance Army (NRA) launched the liberation war with just 27 guns. From the beginning, their main source of armoury was the government soldiers.

Mission one on February 6, 1981, was to capture as many guns as possible from Kabamba military barracks.

“We knew that the barracks had so many rifles, since it was being used for training by Tanzanian soldiers,” said President Yoweri Museveni in an interview on BBC radio soon after the attack in February 1981.

When this mission failed, they withdrew under fire to Luweero. The objective of getting the guns was still on. They however, managed to capture a rocket propelled gun from Nsunga police station.

Two days before this, they had captured a few other guns from Kiboga Police Station bringing the number of guns to 43.

In his book: African Guerrilla, Che Guevera, a renown Cuban guerrilla said that guerrilla groups (like the NRA) do not need heavy artillery to fight effectively. All they need are light weapons, with the hand held rifle as the main weapon. Supp-ort weapons should comprise rocket propelled grenades (RPGs), light mortars of 60mm to 80mm and general purpose machine guns, forming the core of support fire.

Museveni, a student of Che Guevera explained in his book Sowing the Mustard Seed: “Heavy artillery pieces are cumbersome. They are heavy so they need to be carried by vehicles. They are not good for purposes of concealment,” he said.

As a result, the NRA sought smaller arms. The NRA expected to get guns from their sources in Kampala. But after two months of waiting, and no guns coming, they decided to get them by themselves.

On March 18, they captured 10 rifles in an ambush at Kawanda, and on April 6, 1981, they captured 12 rifles, one 60 mm mortar and a general purpose machine gun (GPMG). This was their biggest catch to date.

By June, the NRA had just 60 guns, then tragedy be-fell. During a planned attack against Busunju, they lost 13 of their rifles, the GPMG and the 60mm mortar. One soldier died..

At the time, the number of soldiers had risen to 200. Guns were so few that even when these soldiers were divided into units of 30-40 men, only 12 or 13 of them were armed. None of these units had any support weapons.

Towards the end of 1982, the NRA had contacts in Libya. However, out of the supposed consignment of 800 rifles, 45 RPGs, mortars and GPMGs, the NRA received only 92 of the different types of weapons. The rest landed into the hands of the Uganda Freedom Movement (UFM) another rebel group fighting the government.

However, after UFM used these weapons to attack Lubiri barracks, miraculously, 220 of the rifles, several machine guns and mortars finally found their way to the NRA.

This increased the number of rifles to about 400.

“It is with these guns that we fought most of the war in Luweero,” Museveni explained on BBC.

However, the ratio of guns to combatants still stood at 1:4. This means that out of four NRA soldiers, only one was armed. The rest fought as ‘commandos,’ armed with sharp pangs, sticks and bars.

“I recall my first battle near River Mayanja when I did not have a gun,” Sgt. (rtd) Emmanuel Kintu of Ssemuto explains. The moment the firing began, he moved near the main road and prayed that an enemy soldier runs towards where he was taking cover.

“I struck him down with my stick, and finished him off with my sharp pang. He groaned momentarily before dying,” Kintu says. He says he happily grabbed the gun and joined the battle.

The issue of guns was so serious issue that to lose it under any circumstances was considered a crime. “The punishment was to be sent to battle without any weapon, until you seize one from the enemy,” Kintu said. There was a rule which was never practiced. After a battle, commanders were supposed to count the dead enemy soldiers and compare the number to the bullets fired.

In some instances, the commandos were armed with tins and jerrycans, that they ferociously hit during an attack to confuse UNLA soldiers. “With the tins and jerrycans, the soldiers used to think that we had very many guns,” Kintu said.

The NRA had desperate moments, when they would ran out of bullets.

“At one time, each of our soldiers had three bullets in the gun. In such instances, we used to pray that our enemies do not attack us,” Lt. General Elly Tumwine, one of the main commanders in the war says.

Due to lack of weapons, some of the ambushes were set off using crude homemade bombs.

The most famous of them all was on the Kalasa-Makulubita road, when a home-made bomb, exploded and blew up a Tata lorry, filled to capacity with soldiers. The bomb was a metal gallon, filled with petrol.It was put in a pit, dug in the middle of the road.

“A long cotton cloth, drenched in petrol was tied to the drum. Three of our men held it, ready with match boxes to light the cloth,” Kintu said. Once the lorry arrived, the cloth was lighted. The fire moved at a lightening speed, causing the explosion.

The turning point in the war came after the attack on Masindi, when Salim Saleh captured 765 rifles. This was the biggest capture. But even then, of the 700 NRA soldiers who attacked Masindi Barracks, only 375 were armed. The rest went as commandoes.

“The capture of these weapons was a turning point in the war,” Museveni wrote in the Resistance News, the NRA mouth-piece at that time. This attack was followed by another on Kabamba, on January 1, 1985, which saw them capture 600 rifles. At around the same time, Libya fulfiled its promise of delivering weapons –– 800 rifles, machine guns, mortars were dropped in Ngoma by plane.

At the time, this brought the NRA’s total number of rifles close to 2,800, making it possible for the opening of the second front in the west.

Together with the rifles, the NRA captured several medium range artillery pieces in Masindi and Hoima. Subsequently, a small artillery unit was set up to support the infantry.

The unit was equipped with 38mm field guns and mortars of different calibres, but the most popular gun was the 14.5mm anti aircraft gun, because of its ability to mow down advancing infantry men. The SAM (Surface to Air Missile)-47, shoulder that fired missiles given to them by Libya, formed the core of the air defence unit.

Museveni pointed out that had the NRA got guns as planned at Kabamba, the war would not have taken even five years.

Gun scarcity prolonged NRA war

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