He joined the bush war at its inception in February 1981. His fifth battalion captured Entebbe in January 1986. As director of army records, he gave Museveni his R0 001 number. He is currently the principal military adviser to the state minister for internal affairs. In this ninth part of our continuing Bush War Memories series, R0 040 Lt. Col. Ahmed Kashillingi recounts to William Tayeebwa the story of how he captured Dr. Ronald Batta and all his medical staff, including author Maj. Ondoga ori Amaza:-
My contribution to the bush war is strongly linked to my long military career that spins three decades; having joined the army on October 21, 1967 during the first Milton Obote regime.
By the time Maj. Gen. Idi Amin Dada captured power from Milton Obote on January 25, 1971, I was already a sergeant in the fourth battalion in Mbarara barracks.
Between 1969 and 1973, I went to Israel for training in Para-trooping and counter-intelligence. In October 1973, Syria and Egypt attacked Israel. Amin hurriedly formed the African Liberation Force comprising 300 officers and sent us to the Golan Heights to fight Israel. We spent three months there and then came back.
When I returned, the army wanted those who had done the Para-trooping course to go for a Para-commando course in Mesopotamia, current Iraq. I spent there nine months and came back in 1974 to constitute the pioneer officers of the Uganda Commando/Marines Force. I am telling you all this because this prior military experience came in handy during the bush war where I was one of the principal trainers.
Joining the bush war
Sometime in January 1981, we heard that Museveni’s group was planning to go to the bush to fight the regime. One day, I met a certain lady called Joy Mirembe (RIP) one of the first women to join the bush war. She was actually my sister-in-law and I had interacted with her a lot during my prison days in Luzira because she was married to a prison warder. Mirembe then asked me in Runyankore: “Kashillingi, okira aha?” (How come you are still around?).
I asked her what the matter was and she told me that Museveni was going to the bush and if I could join. I was furious at her telling me to join a man who had imprisoned me in 1979 for having been an Amin soldier. “To hell with Museveni,” I said.
She pleaded and asked me to forget the past. She then connected me to one Tofa Agaba (now a retired captain). I knew this Agaba because he used to be Museveni’s driver.
When the group of Museveni attacked Kabamba on February 6, 1981, we were in Kampala mobilizing utilities for them to use in the bush. We started cutting cooking drums from the home of one Mzee Bantoni in Nakulabye. These facilities would be carried to the bush by now Lt. Col. Andrew Lutaya Lugobe.
Little known Mukono axis
When Museveni’s group went towards Kiboga, Brig. Matayo Kyaligonza and I were told to create another Kikosi (group) called Mwanga unit to operate around Mukono so that it diverts the enemy not to follow our people into Luwero.
We started operating with only one gun and a half (a rifle and a pistol). We were under very heavy concealment such that if a goat looked at you, you would again shift, thinking this goat might inform its owners about your presence in the area.
Sometime in April 1981, while camping at Seeta-Nazigo, I led a successful mission whereby my boys hit Kisoga police and captured seven guns using only stones. The tactic was to hit the police metal unipots in such a way as to create the impression that antitanks were hitting them.
From that time, our Mwanga unit led by Matayo Kyaligonza, with me as his deputy, continued with clandestine operations in Kampala. At night, we would pick the boys to hit Tanzanian roadblocks.
The Mukono-Namugongo operations did a lot of havoc to the army, but it is one of the fighting units least written or talked about.
Consolidating in Luwero
In December 1981, Mzee Museveni came back from Nairobi where he had been since June organizing reinforcements in Libya and other places. You probably heard about the story when Obote’s soldiers were arresting anyone with jeans and canvass shoes. This is because that is what Museveni returned wearing from Nairobi.
Someone in Nairobi had leaked the information to government. But Museveni’s group were helped by Al Hajji Moses Kigongo to sneak through Kampala and join us in Luwero.
During that time, the government forces had stepped up their offensive and had flushed us out of the Namugongo area. We had all run to join our colleagues operating in the Matugga area. Actually the day after Mzee joined us on December 10, 1981, the UNLA had apparently got the information and launched a massive attach on us very early in the morning. They actually forced us out of the Matugga area and we moved towards Semuto.
One day towards the end of 1982, Mzee sent me to withdraw a machine gun we had placed in a certain area. I was riding on his brand new Raleigh bicycle when I fell in an ambush near Bulamba primary school in Makulubita sub-county, Luwero district.
An enemy soldier stopped me and shouted in Kiswahili: “Wewe, leta siraha hapa” (You, surrender that gun). One man held me as the other tried to take the gun from me. I then applied my commando tactics and carried the one holding me at the back and used him to hit the one in front. I then ran with my gun as they pursued me. They could not immediately shoot because their colleagues were pursuing me. I outran them and survived a hail of bullets that followed.
Later, one of our boys who had somehow seen me fighting with the enemy reported to Mzee that I had been captured. Normal practice was that if someone was captured, then we had to move for fear the enemy would use the captive to trace us. I slept in the bush and later located them. Mzee was pleasantly surprised to see me.
After the Bulamba narrow escape, I on Feb.13, 1983, led a force, which went to hit the UNLA detach at Nakaseke hospital. We had camped in a forest at Kanyanda. At daybreak, we matched and hit the army detach and proceeded to take over the hospital.
You probably have heard about Lt. Col. Ronald Batta, who died recently, and Maj. Ondoga ori Amaza, who also died. Ondoga is the author of Museveni’s Long March: From Guerrilla to Statesman and was one of the medical technicians with Dr. Batta. I got Dr. Batta that same day and took him to the bush together with all his nurses and medicine. Among the nurses was Mrs Maria Batta, who later became a serving officer in the army.
We also captured a lorry and later Maj. Kizito Kyamufumba (RIP) drove us to our base. That operation was a major success because we now had medical personnel and lots of medicine.
Fighting two enemies
I consider the whole of 1983 to be the most difficult phase for us. During this time, the enemy launched a massive attack on us. The first major enemy was the UNLA, while the second was hunger. Bulemezi is a scarcely populated area with mainly pastoralists and therefore food is hard to come by.
We used to move huge distances towards Masindi in search of food. On our way back, we would sometimes be hit and lose all food as we scampered for safety.
What helped us during this time was that so many civilians had cows. We convinced the population to give us cows with a promise to reimburse upon resumption of power. We wrote the names of all those who gave us their cows. You still hear these Luwero war claimants until this day.
De facto Obote defeat
As far as I am concerned, we defeated Obote when we shot the helicopter carrying Brig. David Oyite Ojok, his army chief of staff, at Kasozi in December 1983.
After that incident, Obote formed a mobile force under Lt. Col. John Ogole. By the time Lt.Gen. Salim Saleh led an attack on Masindi barracks in February 1984, we had defeated many of Obote’s mobile forces. After the successful Masindi attack, we decided to spread our forces. My third battalion came back to occupy Luwero and Wobulenzi towns. At this time, Obote announced a ceasefire.
Therefore, for the most part of 1984, we concentrated on training and consolidating our positions. In early 1985, we tactically fragmented forces and took most of the sick to the Rwenzori Mountains led by Maj.Gen. Fred Rwigyema (RIP). As we strategically took our sick to the hills, the [Paulo] Muwanga propagandists started announcing that we had been defeated and were running to Zaire.
But as Rwigyema’s force went into the hills, another force was moving towards Masaka. I moved my force through Karungu, Kyamulibwa, Kabulasoke-Kanoni, then Kituntu Sub County and came towards Nkozi to cut off the enemy’s supply route to western Uganda at Katonga. As my mobile force cut off Katonga, Rwigyema’s force was invading Mbarara.
By this time, Obote’s government had been overthrown in July 1985 by the Generals Bazilio Olara Okello and Tito Okello Lutwa. At this time, we continued our tactical strategy by simultaneously cutting off Katonga to prevent reinforcements to Masaka from Kampala, besieging Masaka not to allow any forces out to reinforce Mbarara or attack us at Katonga, and then attacking Mbarara.
Having been at the frontline all the time, I fought so many tough battles. However, the battle at Katonga was unique because we were being hit by only helicopters. When Col. Pecos Kutesa’s force joined us, we comfortably kept our hold on Katonga. As the Nairobi peace ‘jokes’ went on, we had moved and were approaching Kamengo.
There had been a ceasefire announced by our leadership, but for me at the frontline, there was no ceasefire because an entire UNLA brigade had camped at a place called Kwaba near Kampiringisa.
But by August 1985, it was clear the Nairobi jokes were failing. Realising that Okellos’ UNLA was not respecting their part of the Nairobi accords, Mzee ordered us to take over UNLA positions wherever they were. I moved from Kamengo and dislodged the forces at Kwaba and advanced towards Mpigi.
At Kibibi near Mpigi, we met the 7th battalion led by Brig. Matayo Kyaligonza and the first battalion under Col. Pecos Kutesa and the late Fred Mugisha ‘Headache’.
On January 15, 1986, Mzee called a meeting of the high command in Masaka and we were given tasks. My fifth battalion was to take the Kasanje route and proceed to cut off the Entebbe-Kampala enemy route at Kisubi.
The other forces were to continue on the main road to Kampala. At river Rufiji, they would meet the 13th battalion moving from Buloba headed by Brig. Ivan Koreta.
As my force reached Kisubi, we noticed a heavy movement of planes. We gathered that Moses Ali’s forces had just joined Okello Lutwa’s side and they were flying in from Arua. I then requested Mzee to shoot these planes. He refused despite my pleading.
As I was hitting the forces from Entebbe, I was distracted from the rear by Federal Democratic Movement (FEDEMU) forces, which had camped behind Kisubi. By the time Lutwa’s forces came from Entebbe, we were being hit from back and front. We were then pushed back to Kajjansi. I cried for reinforcements and Col. Patrick Lumumba’s third battalion came and we hit the enemy forcing them to surrender.
I continued to Entebbe to capture the barracks at Katabi, the airport and the whole town. Our colleagues continued and captured Kampala by January 25, 1986.
I think what kept some of us going strong for the five years in the bush was Mzee’s siasa (political education). He kept telling us how people like Mozambique’s Eduardo Mondlane and Samora Machel had succeeded. If others had succeeded, then we were also confident we would.
Although I personally have had many problems with the very colleagues I fought with leading to my imprisonment in Luzira for five years (1990-1995) without any case, I insist that our liberation struggle was every inch worth it because it has changed the outlook of Ugandans for good.
Our pride is that for the first time in the history of Africa, and actually of the world, a homegrown guerrilla force without any direct foreign support overthrew an established government in a record five years.
(Al Hajji Kirunda Kivejinja talks about the contribution of the external wing in our continuing series of Bush War Memories this Thursday)
Date of Birth: January 1, 1949
Place of Birth: Kigiro, Kebisoni, Rubabo country in Rukungiri district
Father: Mr Yowana Kabandize
Mother: Mrs Kigyendera Saforoza (RIP)
Schools: Ndama Primary School, Nyakibale Junior School, Nyakazinga SS, Butobele College School and army colleges in Israel and Iraq.
Wife: Mrs Monica Kashillingi
Children: Many loving children including 6th born Hussein Kashillingi, President Museveni's legal aide.
Favourite dish: Chicken, Matooke and Chapati
Hobbies: Watching katemba (local drama)