NAIROBI, Kenya – One Ugandan military helicopter made an emergency landing and two others came down hard and went missing while being deployed to strengthen peacekeeping troops in Somalia, a Ugandan military spokesman said Monday.
Col. Felix Kulayigye, the Ugandan army spokesman, said the missing aircraft were Mi-24 helicopter gunships. Kulayigye said that the Ugandan military received "unconfirmed reports" from Kenyan officials that there were no fatalities involved, even though the two helicopters that had experienced a "hard landing" were yet to be located by the appropriate Kenyan officials.
Rescue teams in Kenya continued a search near Mount Kenya for the two "hard landing" helicopters that each carried five military personnel and crew, Kulayigye said.
He said another Mi-24 made an emergency landing around Mount Kenya. He said four helicopters left Uganda on Sunday and made refueling stops in Kenya. The fourth helicopter, an Mi-17, arrived safely in Garissa. The Mi-24 and Mi-17 that were accounted for carried 18 military personnel and crew in total, Kulayigye said.
Officials have launched an investigation into what happened, he said.
Kenyan military spokesman Bogita Ongeri said the occupants of the Russian-built Mi-24 helicopter that made an emergency landing near Mount Kenya were safe. One of them was receiving treatment for injuries, he said. Ongeri said he couldn't yet establish the condition of the aircraft or what caused it to disappear from radar, along with the others.
The U.N. Security Council in February approved funds for nine transport helicopters and three attack helicopters to be used by African Union forces. The AU troops have been fighting al-Shabab for years without the use of helicopters.
The Ugandan military forms the bulk of the African Union forces in Somalia that are battling the al-Qaida-linked militant group al-Shabab, which is waging an insurgency against Somalia's weak government. Ugandan and Burundian forces pushed al-Shabab out of Mogadishu about a year ago. Helicopters will further aid their counterinsurgency efforts.
Kenya and Burundi have also dispatched to troops to fight al-Shabab, which neighboring countries view as a regional threat. The Islamist militants are now concentrated in the southern coast town of Kismayo, which is likely to be the next scene of serious fighting.
Somalia has not had a stable government since 1991, when longtime dictator Siad Barre was ousted by warlords who then turned on each other.
Muhumuza reported from Kampala, Uganda.