Battle of Lira

Battle of Lira
Part of the Uganda–Tanzania War
Battle of Lira is located in Uganda
Battle of Lira (Uganda)
Date15 May 1979
Lira and surroundings, Uganda
ResultTanzanian-UNLF victory
Lira occupied by Tanzanian-UNLF forces
Commanders and leaders
Imran Kombe
Roland Chacha
David Oyite-Ojok
Units involved
201st Brigade
Kikosi Maalum
Casualties and losses
4 Tanzanians killed
4 Tanzanians wounded
70+ killed
18 captured

The Battle of Lira was one of the last battles in the Uganda–Tanzania War, fought between Tanzania and its Uganda National Liberation Front (UNLF) allies, and Uganda Army troops loyal to Idi Amin on 15 May 1979. The Tanzanian-led forces easily routed Lira's garrison of Amin loyalists, and then intercepted and destroyed one retreating column of Uganda Army soldiers near the town.

Idi Amin had seized power in Uganda in 1971 and established a brutal dictatorship. Seven years later he attempted to invade neighbouring Tanzania to the south. The attack was repulsed, and the Tanzanians launched a counter-attack into Ugandan territory. After a number of battles, Amin's regime and military largely collapsed, whereupon Tanzania and its Ugandan allies of the UNLF began to mop up the last pro-Amin holdouts in Uganda's east and north. One of these was the town of Lira, whose capture was entrusted to a force consisting of the Tanzanian 201st Brigade and the UNLF's Kikosi Maalum force.

While approaching Lira, the Tanzanian-UNLF force divided into two groups, with the main force attacking the town from the south. The other force was ordered to set up an ambush along the western approach in order to destroy Uganda Army troops who attempted to flee the town. The Tanzanian-led troops began their assault on Lira on 15 May 1979, and the garrison began to retreat. One column of retreating soldiers ran into the advancing Tanzanian-UNLF troops west of the town, and was almost completely destroyed. Lira was consequently occupied by the Tanzanians and UNLF fighters without further resistance.


Map of the battles of the Uganda–Tanzania War

In 1971 Idi Amin launched a military coup that overthrew the President of Uganda, Milton Obote, precipitating a deterioration of relations with the neighbouring state of Tanzania. Amin installed himself as President and ruled the country under a repressive dictatorship.[1] In October 1978 Amin launched an invasion of Tanzania.[2] Tanzania halted the assault, mobilised anti-Amin opposition groups, and launched a counter-offensive.[3][4]

In a matter of months, the Tanzania People's Defence Force (TPDF) and its Ugandan rebel allies (unified under the umbrella organisation "Uganda National Liberation Front", abbreviated UNLF) defeated the Uganda Army in a number of battles, and occupied Kampala, Uganda's capital, on 11 April 1979. With his military disintegrating or already in open revolt, Amin's rule was finished.[5][4] Having escaped from Kampala, he consequently traveled to a succession of cities in eastern and northern Uganda, urging his remaining forces "to go back and fight the enemy who had invaded our country",[6] even as he prepared to flee into exile.[6][7] Most Uganda Army units opted to surrender, desert or defect to the Tanzanian-led forces,[6] but some decided to continue to fight for Amin's collapsing regime.[8]

Thus, the Tanzanians and the UNLF allies continued their advance to secure eastern, northwestern and northern Uganda.[9] The Tanzanian 201st Brigade under Brigadier Imran Kombe and a smaller number of UNLF fighters were ordered to capture the important town of Lira in the north.[10][11] The UNLF fighters consisted of Kikosi Maalum members loyal to ex-President Obote, and were led by Lieutenant Colonel David Oyite-Ojok.[12][13][14] The entire force consisted of about 5,000 troops.[15] Lira was home to one of the largest Uganda Army barracks in the country.[16] Throughout the spring of 1979, Amin loyalists harassed, abducted, and murdered residents in the surrounding area because many had tribal links to Obote and were thus considered suspect.[17] They also maintained a roadblock in the town and harassed passing civilians.[18] After the fall of Kampala, Uganda Army troops from the south moved into Lira, and the local population fled. The soldiers then looted all of the town's shops and banks.[19]

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