What you need to know:
- Uganda accelerated the push to deploy its military in eastern Congo after two bombs ripped through the capital, Kampala, on November 16, killing seven.
Uganda does not expect any country in the region, or beyond, to deploy forces in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo) in response to the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) operation to eliminate the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a minister has said.
Mr Henry Oryem Okello, the State minister for International Affairs, said Uganda spent time to galvanise regional and diplomatic support and Rwanda, which faces similar security challenge in South Kivu, is aware of the facts on the ground regarding Uganda’s operations.
Appearing on a talk show of this newspaper’s sister radio station, KFM, on Saturday, Mr Oryem Okello said “the only country that could have troops in the Congo, which I doubt, is Rwanda.”
“The beauty is that Rwandans know what is happening on the ground. They have good intelligence and I am sure they have intelligence on the ground,” he said, adding, “I don’t think it is in Rwanda’s interest to confront the UPDF at this particular time. Rwanda has other interests in DR Congo which goes beyond just fighting UPDF. It is in Rwanda’s interest to get rid of ADF because it would be Uganda today and the next day it is them.”
Kigali has not commented about Ugandan military’s foray into Congo, although Rwanda has previously said it’s subversive elements are hibernating in South Kivu province in eastern DR Congo.
The army has given little specifics about the operation, providing only general out luck of battlefront success.
“The information that we are getting on the ground and from our friend, the FARDC, is that the enemy was seriously punished by our own air force and artillery and they have a lot of casualties so far,” Maj Gen Muhanga Kayanja, the operation commander, said in an undated video clip last week.
The interviewer, who did not disclose identity, did not ask Maj Gen Kayanja, also the commander of the western borderline Mountain Division of UPDF, for the specifics of the fatalities and casualties on the enemy side.
There is also no word about whether anything untoward has happened to Ugandan forces.
Hours after the first bombs fell on the suspected ADF camps, one highly placed security source told this newspaper that the group’s headquarters, where its overall commander Musa Baluku was believed to live, had been hit.
It is six days today since the launch of Operation Shujaa and the military has said nothing about whether it killed or injured Baluku or other high-value targets, among them ADF’s foreign recruits and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) trainers linked to Syria, Yemen and Somaliland.
Uganda accelerated the push to deploy its military in eastern Congo after two bombs ripped through the capital, Kampala, on November 16, killing seven. Three of the dead were suicide bombers, police said.
President Museveni and law enforcement blamed the explosions, and two others before it in October, on ADF terror cells which it sought to dismantle from source --- the group’s lairs in North Kivu and Ituri in eastern DR Congo.
According to military planners, speaking on condition of anonymity due to sensitivity of the evolving operation, the use of overwhelming air force was informed by the desire to inflict maximum damage on key enemy targets and degrade its fighting capability so that ground troops would close in for close-combat fight with limited resistance.
Although the bombs were dropped, the extent of its reach and precision remain debatable as authorities are reluctant to delve into details while discussing the attack.
Asked on Saturday if any children and women could have died in the UPDF air raids on ADF targets, Minister Oryem Okello said: “War is very unfortunate [occurrence] and [in] any battle, there will be victims and casualties. Even the UPDF soldiers are casualties. If any soldier is killed on the battlefield, that soldier has a family, a wife, mother and father.”
He added: “The difference between UPDF and ADF is that terrorists are cowards and shield and defend themselves …by hiding behind women and children [to prevent] the legitimate government [from] deal[ing] with and destroy[ing[ them.”
On Saturday, Maj Peter Mugisa, the designated spokesman of Operation Shujaa, told the media in Bundibugyo border town that a rough terrain and dense forest cover alongside a dearth of roads had impeded swift progress of the infantry.
The revelation raised question as to whether the UPDF reconnaissance team to the mission area failed to detect the environmental inhibitions to inform a better war planning and troop movement, with Maj Mugisa explaining that they need earth-moving equipment to open roads and improve mobility.
Maj Gen Kayanja in the post-Tuesday attack interview identified the raided defence locations of the subversive groups as Yayuwa, Tondoli, Beni I and Beni II --- all in North Kivu and Ituri territories.
Whereas securing Kinshasa’s consent and launching the war can be counted as early Uganda wins, the bigger questions presenting difficulty arise with the start of the military actions.
The UPDF has answered the first question of how long it will stay in Congo by saying the duration will be determined by the defeat of ADF.
A response of this open-ended nature could fit in the framing by dissenters such as Nobel Peace laureate Denis Mukwege, despite the endorsement of the offensive by Congolese government and members of Parliament.
The UPDF Chief of Land Forces, Lt Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba, who was reportedly involved in planning the counter-ADF attack from June, yesterday reported successes of the overwhelming bombing and artillery fire. He provided no specifics.
“Since the beginning of Op Shujaa 5 days ago, our valiant troops together with our Congolese brothers have achieved tremendous successes. We thank our compatriots for the support. Long live the brotherhood between the people of DR Congo and Ug! We shall triumph against the terrorists,” he tweeted.
Eastern DR Congo has dozens of rebel and militia groups, each with allegiance to particular warlord and groups, and it remains unclear how UPDF entry into the theatre will change the dynamics and recalibrate the allegiances, some of which are ethnic.
The ADF, which in 2019 morphed into an affiliate of the Islamic State, has hibernated in North Kivu for more than a decade after Uganda’s military defeated them at home.
The transformation of the group into an organisation designated by the Unoted States as a “terrorist group”, has presented terrorism threat across the Great Lakes Region.
At the start of October, Rwanda arrested 13 suspects it said were ADF terrorists plotting bomb attacks in Kigali, meaning the Baluku-led group is a common threat and nuisance that can galvanise Uganda and Rwanda, despite the latter having separate security scares from eastern DR Congo.
From Uganda’s standpoint, as argued by Operation Shujaa commander Maj Gen Kayanja, the definite military and strategic end states of the offensive are two-fold: defeat the rebels and their will to fight and create conducive environment for trade to flourish between Uganda and DRC so that the citizens prosper.
UPDF’s battles in DRC
In December 2008, the UPDF launched Operation Lightning Thunder, which dislodged Joseph Kony’s LRA rebels from Garamba National Park in northeast DRC, scattering them to the Central African Republic, Chad and the mineral-rich Kafia Kingi enclave at the Sudan-South Sudan-CAR frontier where Kony is reportedly hiding.
With the LRA threat diminished, Uganda said the ADF, long reported beaten, regrouped and re-emerged stronger, prompting a surprise and targeted December 2017 air raid by Uganda People’s Defence Air Force on the latter’s positions in eastern DRC.