Operation UMIAK – Commonwealth Military Training Team - Uganda (CMTT-U)

International Operation Name: Commonwealth Military Training Team – Uganda (CMTT-U)

International Operation Dates: 1982/03/18 – 1984/03/24

Mandating Organization: United Kingdom

Region Name: Africa

Location: Uganda

Canadian Operation Name: Operation UMIAK

Canadian Operation Dates: 1982/04/06 – 1982/09/03

Mission Mandate:

To provide medical support to Commonwealth personnel and Ugandan soldiers.

Mission Notes:

In 1972, Commander of the Uganda Armed Forces, General Idi Amin, overthrew President Milton Obote and took power in Uganda. The Uganda National Liberation Army (UNLA) then waged a military campaign to overthrow Amin and succeeded when he fled Uganda on 11 April 1979. An interim government subsequently organized.

The UNLA received substantial assistance from the neighbouring Tanzanian military in defeating the dictatorial Amin and became the new national army. In the interim government period that followed, several leaders within the UNLA began to organize their own private armies. Yoweri Museveni formed the National Resistance Army (NRA), rapidly increasing its size from about 80 to 8,000 soldiers. Obote, whom returned to Uganda, began a second distinct term as president after winning the disputed election of 10 December 1980.

The UNLA increased from an estimated strength of 600 to 24,000 personnel in less than two years. Many of the soldiers were from ethnic groups that Amin had treated harshly. With minimal military training and now fighting the NRA, some UNLA soldiers avenged themselves against the inhabitants of Amin’s previous home region. President Obote began to re-establish cordial international relations and to rebuild Uganda’s shattered economy. However, futile attempts to defeat the NRA negated any significant gains.

President Obote signed agreements with North Korea, including one that allowed North Korean soldiers to deploy thirty officers to Uganda to conduct infantry training in Gulu. During the 1980s, these North Koreans often led UNLA soldiers into combat against the NRA. The repression that had been symbolic of Amin’s regime began to return.

Faced with the problems of rebuilding the economy and fighting the NRA, President Obote requested international assistance. In 1982, the United Kingdom organized the Commonwealth Military Training Team in Uganda (CMTT-U) to train and better organize the UNLA. The Commonwealth Secretariat requested members of the Commonwealth for assistance. Australia, Canada, Guyana, Jamaica, Sierra Leone, Tanzania and the United Kingdom all provided personnel. The CMTT-U consisted of 37 members operating from the town of Jinja, 50 kms east of Kampala. They provided training to officers of various ranks whereby military skills, small unit tactics, battalion operations and leadership were instructed. Warrant officers and sergeants trained in drill and small unit tactics.

Canada deployed a three-person medical team in 1982 consisting of a medical officer (major) and two medical assistants (warrant officer and sergeant) to support the CMTT-U. They left Canada on 6 April and arrived in Jinja on 14 April. Operating from this location, they treated the members of the CMTT-U, but more frequently provided medical attention to Ugandan soldiers. The biggest problem they treated was malaria. Initially, chloroquine could be effectively used to treat malaria during the period they were there. However, by the time the three Canadians left, chloroquine-resistant malaria was making its debut in the area. Parasites such as hookworm, roundworm and tapeworm were common problems, as were venereal disease and tuberculosis. The team would also occasionally treat civilians. Canada’s contribution to the CMTT-U lasted until 3 September 1982, less than five months in total, and was not renewed.

The overall impact of the CMTT-U efforts throughout the country proved insufficient. The organization operated from 18 March 1982 to 24 March 1984. In early 1983, with the continued failure of the UNLA to defeat the NRA, President Obote authorized the forced move of more than 750,000 civilians in the Luwero area, where the NRA had its greatest support. Civilians not living in the government-organized camps were assumed to be hostile. The police began systematic abductions and torture to find NRA supporters. The military conducted indiscriminate attacks on alleged supporters of the NRA. President Obote’s regime is estimated to have killed as many as 500,000 people. The regime fell on 27 July 1985.

The content of this webpage was prepared by the Operational Records section within the Directorate of History and Heritage (DHH).

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