Monday October 3, 2005
The Sierra Leone Army and their foreign allies perilously fought the rebel Revolutionary Unied Front ( RUF) on a landmine of deception and intrigues by the insurgents and this helped to prolong the rebel war and tarnish the name of the RSLMF, some former senior officers told COCORIOKO on Saturday .
Retired Col. Idriss Kamara
In our quest to always present the other side of the story, COCORIOKO decided to hold a series of investigative interviews with some of the senior officers of the Sierra Leone army who were involved in full combat with the rebels in the face of continous charges from members of the public that the soldiers did not prosecute the war with seriousness and professionalism .
Yesterday, COCORIOKO called one-time senior officers , Lt. Col. Idrissa Kamara , Lt. Col. Tom Nyuma and Major Taqi Kamara and interviewed them on the role played by the army during the wa
I had to gain the confidence of the former senior officers for them to talk to me freely. As a matter of fact, some of them said they had made up their minds to remain silent , despite all the allegations that have been levied against the conduct of the war by the Sierra Leone army , because they did not want anybody to take their comments out of context.
RETIRED COL. TOM NYUMA
It appeared as if the soldiers had decided to be guarded because they had had past bad experiences with journalists who spoke with them and then went and misrepresented them by publishing completely different views from those they expressed. The soldiers stated pointedly that as professional men they did not want to create any bad blood or open old wounds as they were operating under the spirit of national reconciliation which they believe was in force.
Luckily for COCORIOKO, the soldiers have been reading this newspaper and they told me that they were impressed by our independent and objective handling of news .They noticed that COCORIOKO provided the opportunity to people from all walks of life to present their own side of issues and to give their viewpoints on matters of national concern .
The Editor admonished the soldiers that silence was not golden in today’s world , especially in a country like Sierra Leone where perception, if left unaddressed , became reality. He advised them to bare their chests because the international community, stakeholders and credible journalists were determined to nourish the spirit of democracy in the country and now also there was the need to respect the people’s riight to know. The Editor impressed it on the former soldiers that the public deserved to hear their own side of the story of the events that transpired during the war so that they will decide which version to believe . Once confidence was established, the soldiers decided to cooperate.
The first matter that had to be handled was : WERE THE SIERRA LEONE SOLDIERS REALLY SOBELS ? Unanimously, all three of them , who were hooked to the same line with the Editor, denied vehemently. They said that while it was possible that some soldiers behaved inappropriately on the battlefield , as is done by all armies during wars ( Example : The Iraq case ) , the Sierra Leone army in general prosecuted the war with seriousness and professionalism. They said they were not speaking about events that happened after the NPRC handed over power to a civilian government .Rather, they were referring to the situation before and after the NPRC came to power.
The ex-soldiers said it was the greatest injustice done to the army to accuse them in general of being sobels because that was not the case. The soldiers recounted how the army fought the rebels valiantly on all fronts, sacrificing their lives and losing so many men just to ensure that the RUF did not take the country. Ex-Col. Taqi Kamara asked the Editor if he had ever heard of his name and if all he did had ever been reported in the press. The soft-spoken officer , answering his own question in the negative, narrated dangerous expeditions he commanded against the rebels and outposts that he and his men took back from the RUF . He lost many men in these expeditions and narrowly escaped being killed himself a lot of times . He said that most of these things have never been reported by the press.
They recounted deadly ambushes that were set against them by the rebels and how they had to use their military training and determination to overcome them, though many of their men were killed in the process.
All three officers asked people to tell them why in Liberia the Charles Taylor rebels took only 7 months to overrun the whole country and seize Monrovia , the capital, but in the case of Sierra Leone, the rebels took 7 years before they entered Freetown. They explained that it was because the soldiers put up a very stiff onslaught against the insurgents.
Kamara, Nyuma and Taqi all emphasized that if the war was prolonged and the Sierra Leone army’s image was destroyed, it was more so because of the tactics employed by the rebels. They explained that apart from the fact that the rebels did not fight a conventional warfare, they used deceit, deception and all kinds of subterfuge to get things going their way.
The rebels, they explained practiced a deliberate policy of framing the soldiers. Whenever the rebels ambushed government soldiers and overcame them , they seized not only their trucks and arms but even their uniforms. Infact, the soldiers said that was how they came to understand how to identify whether casualties were rebels or soldiers. They intimated that if the dead men were naked, they were soldiers because the rebels always took away their uniforms.
What the rebels did , the men went on, was to send samples of the camourflage uniforms of the Sierra Leone soldiers to the Ivory Coast where they had agents. The uniforms were duplicated by manufacturers and sent to the rebels who wore them to go and fight. This, the soldiers went on, did not only confuse all combatants since it became difficult to know who was rebel or government soldier, but it created problems for the army in that survivors of rebel attacks started disclosing that the men who attacked them were in government army uniforms. This, they said, soon fueled rumours that the government soldiers were playing double roles and that was how the accusation started that the soldiers were sobels.
The other deceptive ploy used by the rebels was to boldly impersonate leading commanders of the Sierra Leone army. The ex-officers informed COCORIOKO that when the rebels seized the campus of Njala University , their commander introduced himself as Tom Nyuma. With the rebels dressed in military uniforms of the Sierra Leone army, they were easily believed. After the people gained confidence in them, the rebels then turned on them, started shooting , committed all manners of atrocities and looted the whole campus and town leaving behind scores of dead bodies and wounded civilians.
Tom Nyuma said he was at Daru Barracks when he heard that people were saying that certain soldiers under his command had attacked the Njala University campus. He stated that he was stunned beyond belief because he had not even gone to that direction . Some rebels repeated the same deception when they attacked Kabala in the Northern Province, but somebody who had known him before later explained to the Chief and others that the so-called Tom Nyuma did not have the same physical features as the real Tom Nyuma he knew.
The rebel strategy of not only wearing the same uniforms used by soldiers but mimicking their communication codes cost the army so many lives , the soldiers further explained . Innocently, soldiers fell into deadly ambushes and they were mercilessly slaughtered by the rebels. The soldiers told graphic stories of collegues killed horridly by the rebels. They mentioned the case of a Colonel who was captured by the rebels. Before they killed him, they gouged his eyes. The rebels were very wicked , thery explained , and said that only God saved them many times from suffering the same cruel fate of their collegues.
READ MORE ABOUT THE SOLDIERS’ STORIES IN COMING ISSUES.