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SOMALIA WAR: UPDF Counters Soldiers’ Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

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After several incidents of UPDF soldiers opening fire on their comrades or members of the public during or immediately after combat missions, the armed forces have conducted a two-week post-mission guidance and counselling session for its 24th battle group (UGABAG XXIV) that returned from Somalia earlier in May.

The Chief of Staff Land Force, Maj Gen Leopold Kyanda closed the program at UPDF Peace Support Operation Center in Nakaseke on Friday where he also officially welcomed back the 1,798 troops under the command of Col Jackson Kayanja.

Maj Gen Kyanda said the program was “very relevant in ensuring the forces recover from possible post-traumatic stress disorders” after being “involved in heavy combat and stressful environment for 12 months without the opportunity for annual leave” as opposed to those serving within Uganda who are entitled to 1-2 months of annual leave.

Maj Gen Kyanda further noted that the UPDF leadership included items within the two weeks’ program to enable the troops “benefit from other realities of the society and help them properly integrate into their respective communities.”

UPDF soldiers recently shot each other following a heated argument in Somalia.

The army is yet to provide an official statement on the incident which many attributed to accumulated stress.

Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can occur after a traumatic event such as combat, an assault, or a natural disaster.

While stress is common after a trauma, for those with PTSD reactions such as reliving an event in their mind and feeling distant or angry do not go away over time, and can even get worse.

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In 2016, Sgt Isaac Obua shot dead seven of his colleagues inside Makindye Military Police Barracks in Kampala.

Pte Isaac Newton Okello was in December 2018 convicted for killing a pregnant woman, her husband and son in Alebtong District and sentenced to 80 years imprisonment.

Herbert Rwakihembo (Photo Credit: Daily Monitor)

In December, 2012, L/Cpl Herbert Rwakihembo, attached to the Military Police, shot dead his fiancée, Irene Namuyaba and two others at Luzira.

In Somalia, Rwakihembo braved the hard life of a soldier on the battlefield in a situation of life and death. When his wife reportedly misused the money he sent to her, Rwakihembo lost his cool. When he was further informed that his wife had an affair with another man, Rwakihembo shot dead the woman.

Effect of PTSD

In earlier wars, PTSD was called “soldier’s heart,” “shell shock,” or “combat fatigue.” Today, doctors recognize the issues described by each of these terms as a distinct medical condition called posttraumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

While PTSD can affect people who have experienced a wide range of life-threatening events, in Veterans the condition is commonly associated with combat trauma.

Uganda’s military units are active in Somalia

It has taken a significant toll on many war Veterans, including Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans.

The disorder can lead to distressing and persistent symptoms, including re-experiencing the trauma through flashbacks or nightmares, emotional numbness, insomnia, relationship problems, sudden anger, and drug and alcohol abuse.

Recently, reckless and self-destructive behavior has been added as a PTSD symptom.

Intervention

Defence spokesperson Brigadier Richard Karemire says immediately on arrival and before the troops can be granted a one-month leave to their respective communities of origin, “they benefit from the counselling sessions as well as political education and training on skills to improve household income.”

The soldiers are also acquainted with skills on nutrition and health lifestyle, basics of building and construction, land tenure systems, attitude change, preparation for retirement and welfare opportunities within the UPDF such as WSACCO and Army shop among other items.

External facilitators such as Professor Dr. David Ssali, Professor Peter Baguma, Prof Edward Bantu, Dr Charles Michael Karimbaka, Patience Rwendeire and Mr Paulo Odauk assisted the UPDF facilitators in conducting this recent training.

Meanwhile, Maj Gen Kyanda applauded the troops for fulfilling Uganda’s Pan-African mandate in the region. “You have been part of UPDF, fulfilling our Pan-African Mandate in the region and Africa as a whole,” he said adding that the UPDF has been involved in several missions in the Pan-African spirit such as in Liberia, South Sudan, AMISOM, UN Guard unit in Somalia and the ongoing Training of Equatorial Guinea’s military.

He said UPDF offers sincere support in such missions with no hidden motives or the desire to impose Uganda’s will on its African brothers.

The General noted that Africa can achieve more in peace and security sector once Africans learn their combined worth and believe in themselves and that they can do things for themselves.

“Our big challenge as Africans is that we do not recognize our worth. We take it for granted. If you don’t know your worth, then you easily get intimidated. So, we need to recognize our capacity. We need to know who we are and what we are capable of doing,” said General Kyanda.

He cited as an example the fact that, for centuries, Africa has been stealthily robbed by the outside world of critical raw materials for Defence industries such as Uranium which could have been used locally to enhance Africa’s military capabilities. He, however, observed that Africa could achieve more only as a United block.

Uganda has fielded twenty-nine battle groups to Somalia since 2007, each comprising 1,600 – 3,200 troops. It has also fielded in three battalion-size United Nations Guard unit to the Horn of Africa country.

Karemire said the just concluded post-mission ideological orientation conducted by the office of UPDF Chief Political Commissar is the sixth of its kind since the mission in Somalia started and its aimed at helping to re-direct the mindset of the soldiers from the mission and mitigate possible effects of post-traumatic stress disorders.

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