Thursday, September 12, 2013

UPDF choppers crash report still a secret

UPDF choppers crash report still a secret

Results from investigations into the cause of the fatal crashes have not been made public. Graphic: TEA
Results from investigations into the cause of the fatal crashes have not been made public. Graphic: TEA

Posted Saturday, September 7 2013 at 12:18
In Summary
  • The weather on Mt Kenya is said to change every 10 minutes, sometimes with sudden blizzards.
  • On February 25, a renowned conservationist and a journalist were killed when a light aircraft they were travelling in crashed near Mt Kenya. Dr Anthony King was piloting the plane when it came down. The journalist was the only passenger on board.
  • On July 19, 2003, 12 American tourists — three generations of one family — died after their chartered plane crashed into Mt Kenya. Two South African crew members also died in the crash.

Ugandans may never know the cause of the fatal crashes of three air force helicopters on Mt Kenya last year as the military is not about to lift the veil of secrecy around the probe into the August 12, 2012 air disaster.
The crashes claimed the lives of seven officers of the Uganda People’s Defence Air Force, and injured 21 crew members as they were en route to Somalia to support the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom) peacekeeping force, to which Uganda is one of the troop-contributing countries.
The silence about whose errors of omission or commission caused the fatal crashes brings into focus the issue of accountability in the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF). Unfortunately, even the Kenyan military has not made public the findings of its probe into the crashes.
Gen Salim Saleh, the president’s chief advisor on defence, who headed the Uganda investigation and handed a report to Commander in Chief President Yoweri Museveni within weeks of the crash, would not reveal what his probe unearthed.
Instead, Gen Saleh aka Caleb Akandwanaho told The EastAfrican, “The reports — mine and the Kenyan one — are the properties of the two governments. The respective ministers of defence and chiefs of defence forces are keepers of these reports.”
But UPDF Chief of Defence Forces Gen Edward Katumba Wamala says he has seen no such report.
“You better ask the person who did the investigation. I did not give him the task. How would he give me the report? The one from whom he got the task is the consumer of the report and would be the one to release it for public consumption,” he said, somewhat cryptically.
Gen Katumba Wamala added that the army has not yet taken up the matter with the UN to have the choppers replaced as demanded by President Museveni in May, during the Somalia Conference in London, when he asked that the UN compensate Uganda for loss of its military hardware. Amisom is an AU mission, deployed in 2007 under the auspices of the UN.
President Museveni argued that the Somali government’s allies needed to be given technological superiority over the Shabaab militia by using gunships, for which purpose the choppers were being deployed on the botched mission.
“In this connection, the UN should replace our gunships that perished in an accident in Kenya on the way to Somalia so that we use them as force multipliers,” President Museveni told the Somalia Conference.
The Uganda leader wants the three choppers, valued at about $10 million, replaced so that Amisom has the firepower to target Al Shabaab in their rural bases where they have been holding out for more than a year now.
President Museveni’s demand for the choppers’ replacements is driven by operational as well as sentimental reasons. The Uganda military has fought many wars around the region, but has not suffered so big a loss in one go.
The Mt Kenya crashes rank high up as one of the Uganda military’s worst air disasters, in which three of four helicopters crashed. Three Mi24 combat helicopters and one Mi17 utility chopper were headed for the war zone in Somalia to bolster the Amisom war against Al Shabaab, but all the combat helicopters crashed en route to the mission.
According to the UPDF, the flight plan was for the choppers to take off from Soroti Flying School in eastern Uganda on the way to Baidoa in Somalia, stopping at five fuelling points along the route — Eldoret, Nanyuki, Garissa and Wajir, all in Kenya — before finally touching down at Baidoa.

The combat helicopters coped well between Soroti Flying School and Nanyuki, but could not negotiate the 17,000 foot altitude of Mt Kenya between Nanyuki and Garissa. Aviation experts say the Mi24 is designed to fly at altitudes no higher than 12,000 feet. Only the bigger utility Mi17 chopper that could handle such heights survived the disaster, and landed at Garissa.
Yet, apart from sacking Air Force Commander Maj Gen Jim Owoyesigire and Chief of Staff Brig Moses Rwakitarate following the disaster, the military has done little as families of the Air Force officers who died in the crashes continue seeking answers.
Bad weather
President Museveni refused to blame the disaster on bad weather in the Mt Kenya area. But he mentioned “acts of negligence” and “high-handedness” that resulted in such losses of military equipment.
“I cannot listen to stories of bad weather on the mountain. Mountains are clearly shown on the maps. We never fly over mountains with helicopters, especially combat ones,” he said.
There are also fears that the UN, which had sanctioned deployment of the choppers in the first place under UN Security Council Resolution 2036, is blaming the Ugandan military for the disaster, and wants Kampala to bear the costs of replacement. Security experts argue that the usually diligent UN system would have vetoed outright flying of the helicopters and advised that they be disassembled and airlifted to the war zone.
Indeed, sources said that one of the captains who died in the crashes advised his superiors that it was unadvisable to fly fully loaded armoured gunships to Somalia, but was overruled.
There is also the question of whether the choppers upon taking off were presumed to be on a UN mission, or whether they would only qualify as being on a UN mission once they reached Somalia.


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