Ugandan and Democratic Republic of Congo forces have announced an early success against the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) and said they will change strategy to defeat the proscribed group.
Ten days after the controversial joint operation, and the Armed forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC) and the Ugandan People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) say they have destroyed four enemy camps inside the DRC and captured 34 fighters associated with the ADF. A statement issued on Monday also stated that 31 Congolese hostages had been freed, suggesting the ADF were also using civilians as shields against the aerial and ground raids.
Major General Leon-Richard Kasonga Cibangu, FARDC spokesman and Brigadier General Flavia Byekwaso, spokeswoman for the UPDF, issued a joint statement assuring the public of strict adherence to international law, respect for human rights as well as the rules of engagement that state the forces will only target hideouts of the terror group.
The two sides said the operation will now include a major programme to win over civilian support, following initial controversy on whether there will be atrocities in North Kivu and Ituri provinces.
“In order to gain the loyalty of the population and reverse the harmful propaganda instilled by the ADF and their allies, the FARDC and the UPDF have launched a vast awareness campaign and are carrying out civil-military actions, which are already bearing fruit,” the armies said this will be in addition to rehabilitating roads into major townships in the eastern Congo.
The two armies have also vowed to coordinate their attacks and even their communication, in contrast to the early days of the hunt for the terrorists, when each army communicated on the same operations, separately, and sometimes with contradictions.
They have begun joint public meetings to explain the operation, showing the public the deaths and destructions the group has caused in both countries. In Uganda, the ADF, which originated there, is blamed for two recent terrorist attacks in November, which killed at least four people. In DRC, they are blamed for massacres, rapes and other untold suffering of civilians.
Defence ministers Vincent Bamulangaki (Uganda) and Gilbert Kabanda (DRC), accompanied by senior military officers from both countries as well as parliamentarians from the National Assembly's Defence Committee, said they would coordinate operations and ensure that they were not conducted against national and international laws.
They have begun rehabilitation of the Mbau-Kamango and Nobili, Kamango-Semuliki-Beni axes in North Kivu, eastern DRC. This strategy, which was born out of the difficulty the Ugandan army has had navigating through the muddy roads of eastern DRC, is seen as one way of showing the public that a government is better than rebel groups.
This strategy is in line with the one already launched in June 2021 by President Félix Tshisekedi and Yoweri Museveni. Six months ago, the two heads of state had launched construction work for the rehabilitation of the Mpondwe/Kasindi-Beni, Beni-Butembo and Bunangana-Rutshuru-Goma roads. The total length of the roads to be built was 223 kilometres.
To coordinate the joint military field operations, Major General Camille Bombele Lohola of the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC) has been appointed to lead the operations as the mission commander. He will coordinate operations between the Ituri (Ituri province) and Beni (North Kivu) sectors. His mission will be to ensure that military operations proceed normally in the context of the pooling of forces and the tracking down of negative forces made up of the ADF MTM Islamists, CODECO militiamen and other armed groups operating in the Beni/Ruwenzori and Ituri areas.
"With this appointment, the FARDC General Staff has filled a major strategic gap that prevented the tracking of the MTM in a coordinated manner between Beni and Ituri and allowed the enemy to move freely between the two provinces," notes Nicaise Kibel Bel, a military specialist.
"From now on, the coordinator thus appointed will have to take into account the global composition of the ADF and CODECO Islamists, beyond the limits of the borders between Beni and Ituri (DRC) and even Bwera, Bundibudio, Pader and Païdha (Uganda). With the appointment of Major General Camille Bombele, the MTM Islamists are now placed in a (closed) space that the two forces will control as if they were in a swimming pool," Nicaise Kibel adds enthusiastically.
A man with decades of experience, Major General Camille Bombele has headed the 14th Military Region (Kinshasa) and has been the Second in Command of the FARDC's Service of Civic and Patriotic Education and Social Actions.
There is still a small bit of unanswered questions though. There has been no clarity on how long it will take and whether the assurance that civilians won’t be targeted will hold. There are fears that the ADF may threaten or attack those who cooperate with the terrorist fighters or that the militaries.
In his state of the nation address to parliament on Monday, the Congolese president said, “Some terrorist forces are also operating in other neighbouring countries. This is the case of the ADF, which especially scour the common border between Uganda and the DRC.
“So, in order to fight them more effectively, our two countries have recently agreed to pool their efforts in order to carry out joint operations against this common enemy; our parliament is duly informed. I will ensure that the presence of the Ugandan army on our soil is limited to the time strictly necessary for these operations."