What you need to know:
- Kampala lobbied Kinshasa to permit the offensive to flush out the ADF accused of masterminding a string of deadly explosions in mainly Kampala.
The Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) has said it will continue its offensive launched against the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) on Tuesday until the group is decimated.
Uganda’s military jets first struck ADF bases on Tuesday in an operation in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo) that highly-placed security sources said targeted the headquarters of the US-designated terrorist group and its commander Musa Baluku.
In an interview last evening, Defence and Military spokesperson, Brig Flavia Byekwaso, said: “We cannot tell when UPDF shall leave the Democratic Republic of Congo because this is an ongoing operation. I want to believe that we shall stay there until these people are completely wiped out.”
Kampala lobbied Kinshasa to permit the offensive, code-named Shujaa (Hero), to flush out the ADF accused by President Museveni and Uganda Police Force of masterminding a string of deadly explosions in mainly Kampala.
The latest such attack was last month in what security forces characterised as twin suicide bombing that killed seven people, three of them the suicide bombers.
UPDF on Tuesday responded with air raids and ground offensive on two main ADF camps in North Kivu province, according to officials in Kampala, with Congo’s permission and involvement of its military.
Details about the impact of the attacks remained scanty by last night, almost 40 hours after the four Russian-made Sukhoi Su-30 jets fired the first bombs on Irumu and Eringeti forests in Ituri and Beni territories, respectively.
Sources said the strikes targeted one camp where Intelligence believes ADF commander Baluku lives, another hit a camp for foreign ADF recruits while others bombs fell on local fighter and sites for “other activities”.
It was unclear whether Baluku himself was at the location, and therefore hit, or whether other top commanders perished in the strikes.
According to classified intelligence briefings to Ugandan commanders before the attacks, ADF was reported to have enlisted hundreds of children as fighters, presenting a problem to advancing UPDF ground troops how to ensure they remain safe.
In accounts on Tuesday, Brig Byekwaso, without providing specifics, said the jet strikes hit “accurately” on the targets.
Another source familiar with the operation last night said: “There is a lot [of targets hit], but I cannot share the details.”
Troops on the ground
Earlier in the day, it was reported that quick access to the bombed sites by UPDF infantry was hampered by poor road and communication network through dense forests and heavy rain, among other environmental inhibitions.
Nonetheless, some of the troops from the forward operating base had reportedly touched, and were patrolling, the margins of the attack scenes and hunting other targets.
We could not independently verify these accounts because the army considers it premature and fragile to allow journalists access the war zone.
Source familiar with this operation told this newspaper that large numbers of Ugandan soldiers entered the DR Congo through Nobili border post into North Kivu province.
“It was a column of very well-armed troops on foot, followed by armoured vehicles that entered Congo,” the source said.
Hours after the air raids on the ADF sites, video clips surfaced on social media ostensibly showing soldiers wearing uniformed pinned with what appeared to be Uganda flag, trekking against Beni landscapes as curious Congolese lined the roads to catch a glimpse.
In a tweet, Mr Patrick Muyaya, the spokesperson of DR Congo government, noted that “it was agreed after an assessment to continue in-depth operations by the Special Forces of the two countries (Uganda and DR Congo) to clear the positions of the terrorists concerned”.
He did not give a timeline for the offensive whose legality has been questioned by some politicians in both countries after the respective governments skipped parliamentary authorisation for the war.
In Uganda, if the President declares war without a parliamentary resolution, the Constitution directs him or her to notify Parliament about such war within 72 hours.
That deadline for Uganda, which began what the military called precision strikes at 3am on Monday after marching orders were given, is today for President Museveni, as the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, to inform the August House.
The Ugandan offensive is being commanded by UPDF Chief of Land Forces, Lt Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba, and the Mountain Divison Commander, Maj Gen Kayanja Muhanga.
In DR Congo, army spokesperson Leon-Richard Kasonga noted in a statement that for the time being, Congolese Special Forces supported by Ugandan special units will carry out search and control operations to clear and secure bombed ADF positions.
“It [the forest] is so thick that when you take a step off the dirt roads, it can even be impossible to get through this vegetation. It’s within these forests that the ADF has its hideouts and hidden bases, he noted, adding, “It’s very difficult terrain to hunt down an armed group that’s using guerrilla tactics – and that’s one of the reasons why previous attempts to flush out the ADF have struggled.”
The most recent such bid on the part of the Congolese government was in May when it placed the eastern provinces of North Kivu and Ituri under a “state of siege” to step up a military offensive against the fighters, with soldiers replacing civil servants in key positions.
Al Jazeera news outlet on Tuesday after the attack reported that some witnesses had earlier reported explosions and artillery fire in North Kivu’s Watalinga district, as well as the Boga and Tchabi districts – known hideouts of the ADF in neighbouring Ituri province.
Julien Ngandayabo told the Reuters news agency that they have suffered too much with ADF that have massacred their families.
“There is a real panic here at home, especially because we were not informed of this situation,” We are waiting to see if this is the solution,” she said.
The attacks came two days after a senior Congolese source reported that President Felix Tshisekedi had given Uganda permission to pursue the ADF on DR Congo’s soil.
WHAT ARTICLE 124 OF THE CONSTITUTION SAYS...
1. The President may, with the approval of Parliament given by resolution supported by not less than two-thirds of the Members of Parliament, declare that a state of war exists between Uganda and any other country.
2. Where it is impracticable to seek the approval of Parliament before declaration of a state of war, the President may declare a state of war without the approval but shall seek the approval immediately after the declaration and in any case not later than 72 hours after the declaration.