UN report questions UPDF gains in Congo

Maj Gen Camille Bombele (left), coordinator of the joint Armed Forces of the DR Congo (FARDC) - Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) military operations, and Lt Gen Kayanja Muhanga (2nd L), commander of the UPDF soldiers  in DRC at the joint operational headquarters in the Virunga National Park near Semuliki on December 17, 2021. PHOTO/ AFP

What you need to know:

  • This week, President Museveni lavished praise on Operation Shujaa during a televised nation address. He said the ADF rebels’  “only salvation has been DR Congo under President Joseph Kabila who allowed them to stay [in the Congolese jungle].”
  • Félix Tshisekedi, who replaced Kabila as DRC President in January of 2019, gave the UPDF the green light to pursue the ADF in his native country during November of 2021.

A United Nations (UN) report has cast doubt on the effectiveness of Uganda’s Operation Shujaa—the offensive against the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) outfit based in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
In November 2021, President Museveni authorised the deployment of troops to the DRC in a joint offensive with the Congolese army (FARDC).

A 236-page report by the “Group of Experts on the Democratic Republic of the Congo” seen by this publication, which covers a number of conflicts—including that of the sanctioned M23 outfit, shows the ADF outfit has instead gained momentum.
Citing the years the UN forces have been deployed in the DRC without eliminating the different rebel outfits, Brig Felix Kulayigye, the defence spokesperson, in an interview said the UN experts should be the last to lecture the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) on the effectiveness of their operation.

No tangible success
The UN experts note that the security and humanitarian situation in North Kivu and Ituri provinces has significantly deteriorated, despite the continuous enforcement of a state of siege over the past 18 months and despite military operations conducted by the FARDC, the UPDF and the United Nations Organisation Stabilisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO).
The report gives specifics of each of the ADF attacks and the civilian attacks. Since April 2022, for example, ADF attacks have resulted in the killing of at least 370 civilians, and the abductions of at least 374, including a significant number of children.

ADF, the experts say, looted and burnt hundreds of houses and destroyed and looted health centres, mainly in an effort to obtain medical supplies. Attacks on civilians attributed to ADF were concentrated around the Bahema-Boga and Banyali-Tchabi chefferies, Ituri, as well as in the south-east of Beni territory.
Despite the joint Operation Shujaa by FARDC and UPDF, the UN experts conclude ADF has continued its geographic expansion and conducted attacks against civilians in Beni territory, North Kivu, and in southern Ituri.

The investigators say ADF has continued to operate in small groups, launching attacks simultaneously on multiple fronts. Attacks and movements, they conclude, are aimed mainly at resupplying, prospecting for new camps, distracting the focus of military operations from ADF and/or in revenge for these operations, including to undermine popular support for Operation Shujaa.
The details in the UN report which cover investigations conducted up to November 5 are given credence given the latest attempt to attack Uganda linked to the ADF.  About two weeks ago, a group of about 40 ADF fighters crossed into Uganda via River Semliki with an aim of causing mayhem, authorities in Kampala say, but the UPDF repulsed them. In the ensuing battle, 20 attackers were killed. Others were captured alive and an assortment of weapons recovered.

Wide ADF footprint
In Beni territory, the experts detail, the footprint of ADF is wide, with attacks in Beni Town, in the north-east on the RN4 road between Mamove-Oicha and Eringeti, north-west at the border with Ituri, east in the Watalinga chefferie and in the south-east, in the Rwenzori sector, where the ADF still had camps.

Since July 2022, ADF has also targeted the Hutu community around Boga and Tchabi, abducting hundreds of civilians and killing some of them. This is reported to be in retaliation for Hutu recruits having surrendered and/or collaborated with FARDC since 2021. The abducted Hutu youth were forcefully recruited into ADF to reinforce their ranks. Attacks and incursions were also carried out along the RN4 road by ambushing and burning vehicles. In Irumu territory on the evening of October 1, ADF attacked Kyamata Village, along the Boga-Tchabi axis, killing at least 13 civilians, all from the Banyabwisha community. Four civilians were abducted and at least 36 houses burnt.

Despite the destruction of certain camps and arrests, the leadership of ADF remained intact, the experts note. ADF, they write, has returned to its traditional strongholds, including near UPDF bases in the DR Congo at the border with Uganda, where UPDF had tried to establish a buffer zone.
“ADF notably attacked two UPDF bases near Boga-Tchabi in mid-July 2022. ADF even extended its area of operations, including to Goma. ADF collaborator networks also remained largely unaffected,” the report reads in part, adding: “The launch of the fourth phase of Operation Shujaa in September even resulted in an increase in ADF attacks against civilians in retaliation, as had been observed in the past.”

The resurgence of the M23 rebel outfit has also strained the effectiveness of the Shujaa operation. Hundreds of FARDC and some MONUSCO Intervention Brigade elements posted around Mamove and in Boga-Tchabi, southern Ituri, were redeployed to Rutshuru territory, North Kivu, in response to the M23 crisis, according to the UN report.
“The security vacuum created by the withdrawal enabled ADF movements and attacks in these areas. An ADF collaborator who conveyed reports by ADF combatants confirmed that ADF intended to fill the gaps left around Mamove by the FARDC redeployment,” the report states.
Several attacks involving improvised explosive devices during the reporting period confirmed that ADF was opting for more visible and more lethal operations using such devices in urban settings, including suicide attacks, through an established network and operational cells.

The mandate of the Group of Experts was extended on June 30 by the Security Council in its resolution 2641 (2022). The current five members of the Group were appointed by the UN Secretary-General on August 25.
Brig Kulayigye says the main objective of the UPDF offensive against the ADF has been achieved. He said Congolese civilians were happy with the Ugandan troops, insisting that children can access school, economic activities such as farming have resumed, churches have re-opened in the areas previously terrorised by the ADF troops. He said the Congolese civil society has written praising the UPDF for the work it has done in the region.