Uganda military values humanity, hope while countering VEO actions with U.S. training
Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa Public Affairs
CJTF-HOA Public Affairs
Tech. Sgt. Andria Allmond
JINJA, Uganda – Behind Maj. Allan Kitanda, Uganda People’s Defence Force (UPDF) Psychological Operations staff officer, the deep red, black and yellow colors of the Ugandan flag powerfully swayed against the serene background of a cobalt-colored sky and soft, silvery clouds. He paused slightly, then spoke penetratingly – but with compassion – after being asked how psychological operations (PSYOP) assists the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).
“The psychological operations project helps you to bring out the realism because you are looking at the human aspect,” said Kitanda. “So, you look at the children, the women, the innocent men and trying to win them. There is not only war; there is also life after war.”
A seemingly contrasting fusion of traits - strength and benevolence - appears to run through the veins of UPDF PSYOP military members.
“[Psychological operations] gives people an environment that allows people to think,” Kitanda continued. “And if you are going to implement only [kinetic force], you’ll have a population that is traumatized. So PSYOP helps you run soft on the ground and give people the thought that life must be preserved outside the combat engagement.”
Assisted by 346th Tactical Psychological Operations Company (Airborne) Soldiers from the Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA), members of the UPDF are currently training on psychological operations at the Uganda Junior Command and Staff College here. PSYOP is referred to as military information support operations (MISO) in U.S. Department of Defense operations, and the U.S. MISO mission is to convince enemy, neutral and friendly nations and forces to take actions favorable to the U.S. and its allies.
According to the U.S. Army Special Operations Command Public Affairs factsheet, “…during peacetime, contingencies and declared war these activities are not forms of force, but are force multipliers that use nonviolent means in often violent environments.”
This method used by the UPDF and CJTF-HOA is a direct contrast to the methods of the violent extremist organizations (VEOs) in Somalia.
“Ugandans are part of AMISOM right now and are fighting in Somalia, so you have al-Shabaab, you have ISIS, you have Boko Haram and the Lord’s Resistance Army,” said Army Sgt. Justin Locke, the psychological operations team chief. “These are kinetic operations that they’re trying to counteract right now. And having these varied enemies, it’s necessary to be able to change tactics for each one and target the different behaviors.”
According to Locke, al-Shabaab in Somalia particularly conducts kidnapping. Boko Haram does so, as well; but, forces the detained to fight for their cause. In addition to abduction, extortion is a major power used by VEOs in the region. He stated that this ultimately leads to a restriction in the freedom of movement for not only the military, but also the local populous. In addition, he said that execution and mutilation performed by VEOs are a method of instilling fear and coercion.
U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Ryan Hurst, the tactical detachment’s noncommissioned officer in charge said, “So, all those VEOs are dangerous because when you influence people through fear, you’re going to win [the people’s support]. With us training the UPDF on MISO, they can counter these placements of fear and the attacks by implementing the practices we’ve taught them.”
Uganda was the first East African country to deploy troops under AMISOM, which was authorized by the United Nations Security Council in 2007 to take all measures to support national reconciliation in Somalia. According to the AMISOM website, Uganda has also provided all four AMISOM force commanders and remains the largest fighting contingent. So, while civility may be at the hearts of the UPDF PSYOP team, so is winning the war against the cruelty of VEOs in the region.
Lt. Brian Musinguzi, a PSYOP trained UPDF intelligence officer who has been attached to multiple infantry units, stated that in a commander’s big picture of the mission, a MISO staff has a vital role to play in success or failure. He reinforced that as the UPDF supports the Somali National Army, PSYOP is going to play a critical component in fighting SNA’s enemies. Assisting partner nations of the U.S. in strengthening their defense forces is the primary objective of CJTF-HOA.
“We must remember though that PSYOP is still a strategy of warfare,” said Kitanda. “During war, you come across so many actors, some are combatants; but, some are innocents. So, such a portion of the population can prove to be a force multiplier. So, we must continue to think ahead of the enemy, to save humanity.”