NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — One Ugandan military helicopter made an emergency landing and two others came down hard while being deployed to strengthen peacekeeping troops in Somalia, a Ugandan military spokesman said Monday.
Col. Felix Kulayigye, the Ugandan army spokesman, said two of the aircraft were Mi-24 helicopter gunships and the third was an Mi-17. Kulayigye said the Ugandan military has received "unconfirmed reports" from Kenyan officials that there were no fatalities involved, even though the helicopters that had experienced a "hard landing" were yet to be located by the appropriate Kenyan officials.
The two "hard landing" helicopters each carried 5 military personnel and crew, he said. The other two helicopters — an Mi-17 that arrived in Garissa safely and an Mi-24 that made an emergency landing around Mount Kenya — carried 18 military personnel and crew in total, he said.
He said the four helicopters left Uganda on Sunday and made refueling stops in Kenya. He said an investigation into what happened was starting.
Kenyan military spokesman Bogita Ongeri said one of the Russian built Mi-24 helicopters had been spotted near Mount Kenya and its occupants were safe. One of them was receiving treatment for injuries, he said. He said he was yet to establish the condition of the aircraft or what caused it to disappear from radar.
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.