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On the ground with peacekeepers at K-4, the most dangerous spot in Mogadishu.
“K4 is very strategic. For anyone to control Mogadishu they have to control K4,” said Capt. Kenneth Wabwire, commander of the Ugandan detachment.
As we crouched sweating on the roof of the bombed-out former Egyptian Embassy, bullets smacked into concrete walls and piles of sandbags.
“Since morning we have been under attack from sniper fire,” Wabwire told GlobalPost as the crack of gunfire rang out again.
A dozen or so Ugandan soldiers crouched low, occasionally peering over the sandbag wall at the white-washed buildings, less than a mile away from where insurgents were taking potshots.
The Ugandan position overlooks the K4 roundabout, its centerpiece a 20-foot tall bullet-scarred and statue-less plinth. Young boys sit in its shade while next to them cows root through plastic bags and rubbish.
The kids pay no attention to the barrel of a T55 tank that sticks through the wall of an abandoned cinema next to the roundabout. Pharmacies, travel agents, airline offices, money transfer agencies and restaurants surround the busy traffic island; battered cars and minibus taxis bump along the broken road.
To the other side the Ugandans peer out across Bakara Market, a sprawling business district and Al Shabaab stronghold made up of low-lying shacks and high-rise buildings.
K4 is attacked pretty much everyday. And at night the attacks intensify. The commander says that his soldiers ignore rifle fire only responding when mortars target their compound.
When that happens the reply is devastating: At ground level half a dozen 82 millimeter and 60 millimeter mortars are arranged, distance and direction set for different parts of Bakara Market. One incoming mortar elicits a deadly volley of outgoing fire.
“If possible we respond, if we have identified their position, but it is difficult to locate them … [even though] these people are not far,” explained Wabwire as he squatted on a metal case of ammunition.
The peacekeepers are criticized for their indiscriminate bombardment of civilian districts but AMISOM spokesman Maj. Ba-Hoku Barigye says the troops show restraint, under the circumstances.