What you need to know:
- Operation Shujaa began on November 30. The operation is being conducted jointly by the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) and Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (FARDC) and targets the Allied Democratic Forces rebels hiding in eastern Congo.
Maj Gen Kayanja Muhanga, the commander of Operation Shujaa, has said the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) and their Congolese counterparts need more troops on the ground to protect civilians who are returning to their homes.
Operation Shujaa is being carried out by a joint force of UPDF and the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (FARDC) against the Allied Democratic Forces.
In an interview with journalists on Sunday at Kainama Forward Operating Base in the DR Congo, Gen Muhanga said attacks against civilians have reduced and as a result many people are returning to their homes.
“We are overstretched and in Phase Two, we are highly mobile. The return of civilians to their abandoned homes also brings another challenge of creating a protection force.”
He added: “We need more forces on both sides, UPDF and FARDC. Our counterparts need to train Local Defence Units (LDUs) to form Zonal Protection Forces so that when the joint mobile forces are pursuing the enemy, LDUs protect civilians.”
Gen Muhanga said since the operation started, they have dislodged the enemy from the triangle of death where they have been staying for a decade.
The triangle of death consists of areas of Mukakati, Erigeti, Kainama, Boga, Tchabi, river Semliki bridge and Burasi where the ADF had set up camps.
“We have killed a number of these rebels. Recently, we killed more than 20 rebels, captured three, rescued 12 children, and recovered more than 10 guns of different calibers. The operational objective is to degrade the enemy’s capacity to make war,” he said.
The 20 rebels were killed on February 28 in Kilungu after they reportedly attacked and killed 16 Congolese civilians in Kikura on February 27.
Gen Muhanga added that since the operation started, they have lost four soldiers, one was shot by the enemy and three died due to individual errors and as a result of the rough terrain in the jungle.
He said after the joint forces pushed the ADF rebels out of Virunga forest in Phase One of the operation, they fled in two directions, south towards the Rwenzori Mountains and another group towards the North of Kainama-Tchabi and Boga road into Irumu province.
“Therefore, Kainama is our launching zone. The enemy has scattered into smaller groups avoiding our reconnaissance combat aircraft and direct combat with our ground forces. They have now resorted to conducting asymmetrical tactics,” he said.
He added: “The enemy is so inferior that they cannot stand and fight. However, a mechanism has been sought so that when the joint mobile forces are searching [on one side], FARDC forces on the other side block [them from escaping]. As long as we work with FARDC, we will ultimately defeat these terrorists,” he said.
When contacted Lt Col Ronald Kakurungu, the Defence ministry deputy spokesperson, said Uganda already has LDUs who are protecting people in different regions of Uganda, adding that DR Congo will be required to train the LDUs to protect its citizens.
Rev Muhindo Mundala said during the attack last month, rebels broke into a hospital, grabbed what they could manage to carry and burnt the maternity ward and Out Patient Department. “We came back after seeing UPDF soldiers around. These two days we have slept peacefully. We want peace from you soldiers,” he said.
Mr Kabua Makuta, a mother of three said the rebels killed her entire family during the attack last month.