ENTEBBE, Uganda, Jun 10, 2010 — As President Barack Obama was signing the Lord’s Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act on May 24, 2010, members of U.S. Africa Command’s air component, Air Forces Africa, were enroute to Uganda for a senior leader engagement event.
Led by Brigadier General Mike Callan, vice commander, the delegation met with senior embassy and Ugandan officials to discuss current and future engagement activities between the Ugandan People’s Defence Force and Ugandan People’s Defence Air Force and Air Forces Africa.
“While the timing of this [signing of the law] was completely coincidental to our visit, it did underscore our purpose in meeting with the country team and Ugandan officials,” Callan said. “We’ve already established a good partnership with Ugandan forces in military-to-military engagement. As we look down the road, discussions at the senior level will better guide the nature, scope and timing for future events.”
Accompanied by key staff members from the Plans and Programs Directorate as well as the unit’s command chief master sergeant and public affairs officer, Callan began the visit with a tour of the airfield and logistics hangars at Entebbe Air Force Base. During the tour, the team met with a representative of the U.S. State Department-contracted DynCorp which supports the UPDF with aerial resupply and troop movements of Ugandan, Burundian, and Somali forces in and out of Mogadishu supporting the United Nations-African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).
“Uganda is one of only two countries supporting the UN’s AMISOM mission currently,” Callan said. “Though the airlift is contracted, it is good to have the understanding of those ground-based missions and capabilities of the UPDF as we pursue future air force and joint initiatives.”
While the UPDF boasts a professional, well-trained army, their air forces are in essence only five years old and looking to build capacity. “We’ve been working with their army forces for some time, providing great training opportunities through the Department of State-funded International Military Education and Training, or IMET program, and multi-national peacekeeping operations. Now they would like for us to do that with their air forces,” said U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Greg Joachim, Defense and Army Attache, U.S. Embassy Kampala.
Members of the 17th Air Force Plans and Programs Directorate are looking closely at just such opportunities as they develop long-range plans with Uganda. IMET can cover courses ranging from leadership development to undergraduate pilot training and maintenance and logistics, explained Lt Colonel Joachim. As the air component for U.S. Africa Command, “17th Air Force brings focus to those much needed air force activities, which we really need,” he said.
U.S. Ambassador to Uganda Jerry Lanier, echoed these comments during an office call with the Air Forces Africa team. Highlighting the LRA issue, as well as Somalia and Sudan as on-going priorities requiring a multi-year process, he praised the current security relationship. “We’re very glad you’re here working with the Ugandans,” he said. “The military is a dominant institution in this country and this is a key relationship. The Ugandans are ready to move forward in building capacity for their air force, and when they say they will do something, they will do it.”
Major General JB Owoyesigire, commander of Ugandan People’s Defence Air Forces, said his nation welcomes the concern of Barack Obama and signing of the new law to assist with the defeat of the LRA.
“You supported us in our fight against HIV and now the LRA,” he said. “Joseph Kony is a son of Uganda, and therefore our responsibility and we will take care of that.”
In building the capacity of his nation’s air force, the general highlighted his desire for expanded training and engagement opportunities in areas ranging from military education courses such as Air War College and Squadron Officers School, to technical fields such as pilot training, aircraft maintenance, flight medicine, aerial intelligence and accident investigation. His dream for the future is to build a Ugandan academy for air force officers that will take them through military education from cadet to general.
When discussing the potential for not only Uganda, but other African nations, General Owoyesigire is very direct.
“African nations do not need to wait for others to come in to help them,” he said. “African nations need to do things for themselves. We are building our Air Force, and we would like your support in doing that,” he said.