By Alfred Wandera
President Yoweri Museveni’s brother and chief advisor on defence matters – Gen. Salim Saleh – has advised him to fire Airforce bosses – Lt. Gen. Jim Owesigire and Brig. Moses Rwakitarate – following last month’s three chopper crashes in Mt. Kenya that claimed lives of seven UPDF officers.
Reliable security sources intimated to Red Pepper last night that Gen. Oweyesigire, the Commander of the Airforce and Brig. Rwakitarate, the Chief of Staff Uganda Airforce, face the axe for ignoring technical advice and forcing the pilots to embark on an unusual mission of flying fully loaded attacker choppers to Somalia.
The stern recommendation by Gen. Saleh, who the President appointed to head the inquiry into the chopper crash, comes two weeks after he took over the uphill task to establish what could have caused the tragic crashing of three choppers at ago.
Sources say Gen. Saleh, in his recommendation to the President, points out that Captain William Spear Letti, one of the seven Airforce servicemen who died after their helicopter crashed on the way to Somalia, had refused to fly but a top Airforce officer threatened him with arrest.
Sources added that Capt. Letti had reasoned that it was practically impossible to fly fully loaded armoured choppers to Somalia and had recommended that the choppers be dissembled and put on a cargo plane to be flown to Somalia.
Gen. Saleh further recommends that Brig. Rwakitarate should be sent for a refresher course while Gen. Oweyesigire should be retired on public interest.
Sources say Maj. Gen. Ali Kiiza, who is the Chief Presidential Pilot, is tipped to replace Gen. Oweyesigire as the Airforce Commander.
Explaining how close Gen. Kiiza is to eating big, sources said he represented the Airforce on Saturday during the cadet pass out ceremony at Kabamba Barracks in Mubende district that was presided over by President Museveni.
Gen. Oweyesigire and Brig. Rwakitarate conspicuously missed at the function where they were expected being the heads of the Airforce.
As if President Museveni has predicted Gen. Saleh’s probe committee’s outcome, while speaking about the chopper crash two days after the nasty incident, in a written message commiserating with families whose relatives perished, he refused to accept that the cause of the crash was bad weather and fogs forming around Mt. Kenya.
“I cannot listen to stories of bad weather of the Kenya Mountains. Mountains are clearly shown on the maps. We never fly over mountains with helicopters, especially the combat ones,” Museveni’s condolence message read in part.
He added that whenever he is going to Bundibugyo, he quarrels with his pilots to ensure they fly around and not over Mt. Rwenzori. In a secret condolence memo, Museveni also rebuked the Airforce leadership for abandoning the time tested flight techniques UPDF always used to pursue the LRA in the Sudanese region of Imatong hills.
Saying he is eagerly waiting for the truth from the Gen Salim Saleh-led probe into the crash, Museveni maintained the Kenyan crash resulted from “acts of negligence or high handedness, resulting in unnecessary losses of our precious military personnel and equipment.”
It’s clear Museveni was disappointed that his “painstaking” efforts to build the “most efficient Airforce in Africa which began 42 years” can be betrayed by Airforce commanders’ mistakes of judgment.
“Up to now I have nothing to say about this tragedy because I am indignant and disappointed,” he said in his opening remarks of the one page condolence.
Museveni wondered why the pilots’ superiors didn’t utilise the radar to detect bad weather ahead before the choppers took off. “If the weather is bad you don’t fly. Weather can’t be a serious factor. These days satellites are able to show the nature of weather all over the globe. The MI-17which was part of the [ill-fated] formation is equipped with weather radar. It would have warned the formation to return to the Nanyuki Airforce base of Kenya. I believe the Gen Saleh team will give actual truth so that this careless handling of our precious military personnel and equipment stops forever,” Museveni’s secret message to bereaved families read in part.
IGNORED UN ADVICE
Gen. Saleh’s findings and recommendations follow another detailed report in two military-affiliated publications that also appear to collaborate Museveni’s view that the crash was caused by other factors rather than just bad weather. The two publications are “The African Confidential” of September 9 and another website, www.theafricareport.com.
The African Confidential, believed to be co-owned by some leaders in the Ugandan military, quotes sources on Gen. Saleh’s ongoing secret probe revealing that the Mt. Kenya debacle, which claimed at least seven lives of Ugandan pilots, would have been avoided if the Ugandan Airforce leadership had complied to advice by the UN and experts in the Kenyan Aviation and military.
Firstly the UN, through its aviation experts attached to Kenya-based United Nations Support Office for AMISON (UNSOA), had warned that the ill-fated chopper fleet be airlifted to Garissa rather than flying there directly.
The reason by UN aviation experts was that the heavily armored Ugandan aircrafts wouldn’t manage to scale the high Kenyan Mountain ranges. However, the African Confidential reveals Ugandan Airforce bosses stuck to their original plan and refused this expert advice saying they knew what they were doing. That isn’t all. The Kenyan Air Defense leadership sent out a message to Ugandan counterparts warning that that day’s unpredictable weather changes on Mt. Kenya couldn’t facilitate Ugandan aircraft flights beyond 4:00pm, which was the actual take off time for the fleet from Soroti airstrip in Eastern Uganda.