This is a continuation of a narration by Capt. (Rtd) Logan Ndahiro of the 1990-1994 Liberation Struggle as he remembers it. In the previous parts, he recounted key moments of the struggle including the liberation of political prisoners in Ruhengeri Prison and the subsequent battles that characterized the war.
After a two weeks incursion in the Akagera National Park in May 1991, the two mobile forces (Bravo and Mike) retreated from the Park and attacked Agakindo, Bubare and Rugarama (now Rwempasha, Nyagatare District).
The panic these attacks caused on the Eastern sector made the enemy loosen the knot around our RPA forces in volcanoes and rush to the Eastern front. This eased the withdrawal of our forces from the volcanoes back to Umutara battle sector.
Meanwhile, around August 1991, the Chairman of the High Command (President Paul Kagame) decided to send a reconnaissance unit to the now Tabagwe Sector. Unlike the earlier ones sent, this unit was a small, well-armed and capable of engaging an enemy in a fight if necessary.
This was so due to the nature of their mission in an area feared to be enemy’s stronghold. The enemy had dug in along areas of Kangoma/Mabare to Kentarama, Nyabihara and Shabana in the current Tabagwe and Karama sectors, Nyagatare District.
These enemy defences were so close in proximity and mutually supportive of each other. The unconfirmed reports could not establish the proper location of these enemy defences nor their strength.
The Chairman’s insistence on receiving proper intelligence was always a primary objective of any mission. As the last mobile forces arrived from the volcanoes around August 1991, he had received the intelligence report, which confirmed the presence of so many enemy defences dug in (see map). Their proper location and strength was established.
These were, from east - westwards; Mabare, Runyinya, Mutojo, Bushara I&II, Gashenyi, Kabuga, Kentarama and Nyabihara. These were so close to each other (about 2km apart) for reasons of giving each other support if and when attacked. In September of 1991, the Chairman decided to send Yankee Mobile Force to ‘‘test the waters’’ just to properly assess the enemy’s armaments and gauge his strength.
As this was going on, all other mobile forces arrived from volcanoes ready for deployment. These included Zulu, Echo, Bravo, Sierra, Alpha, Nkrumah and Delta mobile forces, later 21st and 23rd battalions joined.
Meanwhile Oscar mobile force and the 17th Battalion kept the hind guard to draw the enemy attention away from the Agasentimita battles. They fought running battles with the enemy in the areas of Murambi and Kaniga.
The Agasentimita battles started from September 1991 up to April 1992.One of the attacks on our position by the enemy forces happened on 9th December 1991 under Juvenal Habyarimana’s instructions to his forces to deny us ‘Utunyenzi’ to hold Rwandan territory. Our Yankee mobile force only defended its position and the enemy force was repulsed.
Another attack by the enemy forces took place on New Year’s Day; 1st January 1992.This was a pitched fight that dragged on since early morning until dusk and engaged all the RPA forces in their defensive positions.
By 6pm, both sides could not boast of any victory. It was the first test for each other’s strength but the RPA held on its defensive positions. Throughout these encounters, the Ex-FAR commanders were Gen Nsabimana and Col Marcel Gatsinzi. All these battles and subsequent ones had only one objective: to flush us out of this territory but all this was in vain.
The battles to maintain Agasentimita were a mixture of conventional, positional and guerrilla mobile warfare. At the beginning of the fighting, we opted to be defensive (positional warfare). We could let the enemy attack us in our trenches, under pressure from their Commander-in-Chief’s orders.
This made him vulnerable and exposed him to our positional fire, and then when he is retreating, we would waylay him in ambushes that caused him many casualties. The objective was first to destroy and demoralize him while in our defensive positions with minimal losses on our side.
Apart from ambushes, we used night sniping into his defences but quickly fall back to ours, sieging him, cutting his food supply routes and a number of times sending mobile forces through his defences to attack him far and behind his positions, like we did during the attacks on Rukomo I, Rukomo II, Mimuli and Rukomo III.
Unlike us, the enemy had well-established artillery that he frequently used against us with minimum causalities since we had trenche (Indake).
Of all the enemy defences, Kabuga and Mabare were the most problematic because they were entrenched and protected by high grounds made by earth moving equipment (caterpillars). With such a large killing ground, it was not easy to attack them.
After demoralising the enemy and causing him many casualties, by end of February 1992, we started to be on the offensive. Sensing Kabuga defence as the most protected to dislodge, the Chairman wittingly ordered a cut off of Kabuga defence food supply route.
Rukomo was the sub-headquarters of all logistics to these defences and when an RPA company was deployed to cut off the food supply to Kabuga, using ambushes, Kabuga defence had to desert en mass in fear of starvation after three days without food.
The sieging ambush had hit and denied three consecutive food supplies to the Kabuga defence. As the defence withdrew, they fell into our campany’s ambush that left many dead and others captured alive.
When Kabuga deserted, the remaining enemy defences panicked as we continued our offensive, intensified our sieging and sniping to rout them.
The next defence, Gashenyi, which had enjoyed the proximity protection of Kabuga could not resist our night attack which routed it (see map). We next besieged Bushara I&II which were also deserted. The Bushara defence took our sieging defence by surprise by blindly running through it as they withdrew. That left 3 defences of Mutojo, Runyinya and Mabare (see map).
The RPA intensified attacks on the first two by using sieging, incessant offensive and these two quickly gave up the fight and deserted their defences after many casualties. This was around March 1992.
It should be noted that, throughout these attacks and counter attacks, the Chairman of the High Command had set up his Headquarters in Gikoba (see map), an area within our defensive positions. He monitored the war, gave guidance to COs, and reprimanded those not up to their tasks, and held and chaired High Command meetings against all odds of enemy shelling and offensives. He was within us and he too was physically at war.
On the right flank (see map), Nyabihara was attacked by Sierra mobile force and its defence on the hilltop destroyed. Kentarama (see map) resisted for a while but a Sierra company sieged both Kentarama and Nyabihara (which had come back to its original defence) denying them any food supply or reinforcement and these too deserted.
That left only Mabare defence. As earlier stated, Mabare was not easy to attack due to its raised defensive position with a very large killing ground. Mabare defence was far on the left flank where our mortar power could not easily reach. Towards end of April 1992, we shifted the position of our mortar power to a hitting distance of Mabare defence. In a dawn attack, Mabare woke up in a barrage of our fire that was positioned on higher ground (Gasheke hill) to afford target. By noon, the defence was destroyed with so many casualties left behind.
By early May 1992, all the eight enemy defences were under the effective control of RPA and this stretched from Tabagwe to Rukomo (a stretch of about 25km)and from Mabare to Nyarurema, a stretch of about 20km, a stretch of captured territory commonly referred to as the Agasentimita. This was later on expanded.
During the above attacks, our medical unit had run short of antibiotics and surgical instruments. Rukomo III and Nyarurema Hospital attacks by Bravo mobile force had as an objective to get drugs and surgical instruments from both health facilities. I was personally in charge of this. We replenished our stock with medicine and got most of the surgical instruments from the Rukomo health centre.This was around end February 1992.
It was during mid-April 1992 that the Chairman of the High Command, confident that the gained the territory was firmly under control of RPA forces, that he decided again to trick an already weakened enemy force.
He commissioned a reconnaissance team from Delta Mobile force to establish and assess the location and strength of the enemy in the Northern Arch of the country, largely covering Gatuna, Kaniga, Byumba town, Bungwe, Gishambashayo, Manyagiro and surrounding areas, including the Mulindi tea factory.
To be continued
The author is a retired officer who was part of the 1990-94 liberation struggle