Special operations are defined as ‘operations conducted in hostile, denied, or politically sensitive environments to achieve military, diplomatic, informational, and/ or economic objectives employing military capabilities for which there is no broad conventional force requirement. These operations often require covert, clandestine, or low visibility capabilities.
Modern Special Forces trace their origins to the Second World War. By 1939 the Germans had a number of Special Forces units under the Abwehr (German Military Intelligence). Later on in the war, a unit of the Waffen SS commanded by Otto Skorzeny conducted many special operations.
British commandos were formed following Winston Churchill’s call for “specially trained troops of the hunter class, who can develop a reign of terror down the enemy coast.
These commandos were selected from volunteers among existing infantry units and went on to generate a number of specialist units including the Long Range Desert Group, the Special Air Service (SAS) and the Special Boat Service (SBS).
Special Forces in Uganda
From independence in 1962 to 1986, the history of the various manifestations of the Uganda Army had different Special Forces units. They earned a notorious reputation for brutality and viciousness against the population.
What were called ‘Special Forces’ were usually paramilitary forces that were formed for political reasons. These so called ‘Special Forces’ were consequently behind some of the most heinous crimes and extra-judicial killings ever witnessed by the nation. Some estimates put the total number of Ugandans killed in that period of serious political instability at eight hundred thousand. At that time Uganda was a perennial basket case and ranked very highly in the nations of the earth that had the unflattering distinction of being failed states.
Uganda’s history was written in blood for a quarter of a century, there was widespread insecurity and severe repression at the hands of the dictatorships. This suffering was finally put to an end when the guerrillas of the National Resistance Army (NRA) led by Yoweri Museveni captured political power in 1986. The NRA became the Uganda People’s Defense Forces (UPDF) after the promulgation of the new constitution in 1995.
Special Forces Post-1986
President Yoweri Museveni, the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, recounted recently that the present Special Forces Command (SFC) metamorphosized out of the High Command Unit (HCU) that was established in May 1981, at Kyererezi, Kapeeka (in the present day Nakaseeke District). This was in the early days of the war of resistance against the dictatorship of Milton Obote. Indeed, it was soon after the launch of the NRA guerrilla war on the 6th of February 1981.
The HCU was tasked with guarding the Chairman of the High Command as well as carrying out other special missions and operations. The first commander of the HCU, at that time about the size of an infantry platoon, was Commander Robert Kabuura. The late Akanga Byaruhanga soon assumed command of the HCU in those days of struggle.
Five years later in 1986 when the NRA/NRM captured power, the HCU was renamed the Presidential Protection Unit (PPU). It had grown to the size of a few companies (about 400 soldiers). The first commander of the renamed PPU was Lt. Col. Akanga Byaruhanga (RIP).
After Kampala fell (on the 26th of January 1986), the NRA was able to secure the rest of the country by about the end of March 1986. In August of 1986, the defeated forces of the dictatorships (supported by some of Uganda’s neighbours) launched a counter-revolution which continued in different forms for another 20 years. This counter-revolution was mainly based in northern Uganda with the insurgency of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) being the last and most effective of these counter-revolutionary efforts. Therefore with the new challenges of fighting the counter-revolutionary forces, the PPU eventually expanded into a Brigade (three battalions or more). This expansion also led to an increase in responsibilities, the PGB was not only directed to continue protecting the President but also to defend the country and constitutional order. These responsibilities were shared with the rest of the Defense Forces. In this expanded role PGB participated in counter-insurgency operations in northern and western Uganda on the express orders of the President.
SFC Time Line
High Command Unit (HCU) 1981 – 1986
Presidential Protection Unit (PPU) 1986 – 2003
Presidential Guard Brigade (PGB) 2003 – 2010
Special Forces Group (SFG) 2010 – 2012
Special Forces Command (SFC) 2012 – To Date
Special Forces Commanders 1981 – To Date
- Commander Robert Kabuura (RIP)
- Col. Akanga Byaruhanga (RIP)
- Mwine Muzeyi (RIP)
- Gen. Geoffrey Muheesi (Active)
- George Mayeku (Active)
- Dick Bugingo (Retired)
- Leopold Kyanda (Active)
- William Bainomugisha (Active)
- Sabiti Muzeyi (Active)
- Col. Johnson Namanya (Active)
- Muhoozi Kainerugaba (Active)
Successes and Achievements
The SFC has participated in virtually all NRA/UPDF counter-insurgency operations since the capture of power in 1986, starting with the total defeat of the counter-revolutionary forces that attempted to make a comeback in August of 1986. These included the Uganda Peoples’ Democratic Army (UPDA), Alice Lakwena’s Holy Spirit Movement (HSM), and the LRA.
From 2001-2006 the SFC participated in Operation Iron Fist that destroyed the LRA bases in Southern Sudan, in places like Birinyang, Kony Village, Lubangatek, etc. When the LRA tried to invade the Teso region in 2003, the SFC alongside regular UPDF units got engaged, eventually defeating these terrorists and chasing them out of Teso and Lango.
In 2007, about 100 Allied Democratic Forces rebels (ADF) re-infiltrated Uganda. Working with 2nd Division units, a commando force from 1 Commando Battalion was dispatched to hunt the group down; when battle was joined the small commando force literally annihilated the terrorists at a battle at Semiliki National Park in Bundibugyo District. 87 rebels were put out of action and only 13 managed to escape back to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
Later on in 2008, the SFC was instrumental in the destruction of LRA bases in Eastern DRC; the operation was codenamed ‘Operation Lightening Thunder’. Surviving LRA leaders and rebels escaped to the forests of the Central African Republic.
SFC units, since 2011, have also been active in the African Union Peace Keeping Operation in Somalia (AMISOM) and played a key role in the liberation of Mogadishu and other areas from the strangle-hold of the extremist terrorist organization Al-Shabaab. In particular, numerous Al Shabaab fighters were neutralized by SFC snipers in the Battle for Mogadishu (July-August 2011). The SFC continues to have an important role in intelligence and psychological operations in Somalia, and also regularly carrys out raids and cordon and search operations.
The SFC, from its humble beginnings, is now a major component of the UPDF; it is of increasing strategic value to the Defence Forces and continues to improve its tactical proficiency.