What you need to know:
- The army is now on phase four of the operation at Luna in Ituri Province, eastern DR Congo.
On November 30, Operation Shujja celebrated its second anniversary, marking a significant milestone in the joint eff orts of Uganda and DR Congo in the bid to wipe out the rebel activities of the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF).
The Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) and the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC) have made some notable gains but the current set of challenges leaves the latest phase in need of considerable resources to succeed.
Since the operation’s inception, the UPDF emphasised its timeliness, citing the increasing infiltration of ADF rebels into Uganda, accusing them of a series of attacks.
The UPDF reports that the operation has since progressed to phase four, an indication of the successful completion of three phases, with the addition of a newly established sector four under phase four at Luna in Ituri Province, eastern DR Congo.
Maj Gen Dick Olum, who took over from Lt Gen Kayanja Muhanga on October 14 last year, told journalists last week that there have been successful air and artillery bombardments on ADF rebels and ground forces deployment.
Maj Gen Olum said the initial camp targeted by the joint forces was Kambi Ya Yua which was hit at the beginning of the operation. He said the operation resulted in the dislodgment of all ADF rebels from the camp, with the entire process taking six months, which was sector one under phase one. According to Maj Gen Olum, this phase focused on Kambi Ya Yua and surrounding areas such as Tigwe, and Mt Oyo.
After the dislodgment, the rebels relocated to the North East of Zuguluka, Tokomeka, Tchabi, and Boga. The joint forces launched the second phase to pursue the rebels.
“The initiation of this operation faced challenges due to the terrain in eastern DR Congo characterised by poor infrastructure, bad roads, and a lack of water crossing facilities such as ferries for our soldiers. Despite these obstacles, our forces navigated through and achieved success,” Maj Gen Olum said.
Within sector two, the joint forces successfully reclaimed areas previously under rebel control, including the airfield of Boga, which had become a notorious triangle of death. Using the Haibale landing site on the River Semliki in Ntoroko district, the forces advanced through the Burasi- Boga route to capture the area.
“By the end of 2022, the ADF rebels were defeated, and those who remained were unable to return to sector one. They shifted their movements, crossing through River Semliki, Beni to Mwalika Valley, situated southeast of Beni adjacent to Lake Edward in Kasese District, Virunga National Park, and Queen Elizabeth National Park,” Maj Gen Dick Olum said.
The third phase of the operation was initiated within sector three in Mwalika Valley. Following their defeat there, the surviving rebels retreated to their leadership’s base in Ituri province, where sector four has been established at Luna for the last month under the leadership of Lt Col Ruziro Nuwagaba.
This sector encompasses the areas of Erigeti, Komanda, Mazombe, Ido, Ndimo, Otomabere, Mamberega, and Ndalya.
Authorities remain optimistic about dislodging the rebels from these locations. Maj Gen Olum observed that the ADF rebels continually replenish their ranks through the abduction of civilians.
He cited the rebels’ fragmentation into smaller groups and their prolonged presence in the DR Congo forest for over two decades, saying eradicating such a group requires signifi cant time and resources. However, the overall commander acknowledged the assistance from the government.
Over the past two years, ADF rebels have persistently launched attacks both in Uganda and eastern DR Congo. In North Kivu and Ituri provinces of eastern DR Congo, these attacks have resulted in loss of lives and displaced many.
The rebels launched attacks on Njiapande town, Nobili village, and Balu, leaving more than 60 dead and displacing 500 people who sought refuge in Bundibugyo District. On December 13, 2022, suspected ADF rebels entered Uganda via the porous borders on River Semliki, targeting Bweramule Sub-county in Ntoroko District, but UPDF under the command of Lt Col Saul Nabimanya from the 8th Mountain Division Battalion intercepted them and killed them while others were captured.
On June 16, the ADF rebels attacked Mpondwe Lhubiriha Secondary School, Killing 38 students and six residents while an unspecified number of students were abducted.
Some parents still hope to see their abducted children return. However, these hopes are diminishing. On September 15, Maj Gen Olum, while overseeing the handover of 22 rescued Congolese nationals at Lhubiriha, expressed uncertainty surrounding the mission to rescue the abducted students.
“It is unfortunate that since the incident, we have only recovered the body of a young girl who had been killed and buried in DR Congo. We suspect that about five other students were also abducted, although we have failed to trace whether they have been killed or if they are still alive,” he said.
The army attributed the recurring attacks in Kasese and Ntoroko districts to porous borders. The Uganda-DR Congo border spans about 600 kilometres, making it impractical to deploy forces on the entire borderline.
“With a bigger borderline, can you manage to deploy forces? This will require deploying the entire UPDF. The borders are extremely porous, and because of that, we don’t guard all porous borders everywhere. Some are not marked borders, and rebels take advantage to enter Uganda and cause havoc in districts near the border if they are not detected,” Maj Gen Olum said.
He said the recent attacks on the Ugandan side were likely a diversionary tactic by ADF rebels.
“They intended to make us believe that they were in Uganda, which was not the case,” Maj Gen Olum said.
He also attributed hindrances to the poor road network and insufficient equipment to work on the roads. The transportation of logistics to troops in the jungles has been challenging due to the impassable 75-kilometre road stretch.
“The road unit equipment is for Mountain Division, which is not enough. We have one bulldozer, loader, one grader, one compactor, and one excavator. They are very few for us, and soldiers don’t have enough expertise in road construction. If my boss, Lt Gen Muhanga can add more equipment, we can patch up the road quickly,” he said.
The operation has also suffered casualties with Maj Gen Olum citing an October incident near Kasindi in DR Congo where two UPDF soldiers lost their lives.
On a positive side, however, the army has made some gains. For instance on August 16, at the Mountain Division headquarters in Fort Portal City, Maj Gen Olum told journalists that since the commencement of the operation, 548 ADF rebels have been killed, 31 surrendered, 50 captured alive, and 9,500 rounds of ammunition recovered.
A total of 151 weapons, including 142 submachine guns and eight PMK machine guns were confiscated. Other recovered items included 111 military radios, 45 radio charger ports, and 10 batteries. The operation prioritised the rescue of abducted locals. Notably, in November, a 14-year-old girl from Busia was successfully rescued.
“People who were in camps in Tchabi, Boga, and Kainama have returned to their homes. People had run away, but after spending a few days here in sector four, they have started returning after seeing us,” he said.
On December 13, 2022 when ADF rebels crossed to Ntoroko, the operation resulted in the capture of 26 suspected rebels alive, the death of 25 rebels, and the recovery of 33 guns. “Since the start of the operation, over 200 Congolese locals who were abducted by rebels were rescued, while over 200 Ugandans have also been rescued,” Maj Gen Olum said.
To shift strategy, the operation commander said their current aim is to apprehend or eliminate key ADF rebel leaders such as Baluku, Kasibate, Lumisa, and Abua Kasi.
OPPOSITION DEMANDS OPERATION SHUJJA REPORT
The Shadow Cabinet Minister for Defence and Veteran Affairs, Mr Jonathan Odur (Erute South), said he has been asking the government to table a report in Parliament detailing all the successes of the operation, if any, and the total number of UPDF soldiers that have died or equipment destroyed.
“Although they are telling us that Operation Shujja is ongoing, we have seen ADF rebels crossing to Uganda and killing people in Kasese and Ntoroko districts. How do you claim that you have been successful in the operation yet you have failed to protect the border of your country?” Mr Odur asked.
He claimed that the government’s failure to be transparent about the operation was dishonesty towards the citizens. The MP argued that the initial estimation for completing the operation was two months, but it has now stretched to two years without a clear explanation for the delay.
“At the beginning, the government of DR Congo gave them two months to finish the operation but later added more. If you intended to finish ADF rebels in two months and now it is two years, it means you are not making any progress. It’s high time that they acknowledge that going into DR Congo is not a solution, instead, we protect our borders only,” Mr Odur said.
The Shadow Minister of Internal Affairs, Mr Abdallah Kiwanuka (Mukono North), said the operation is still an illegal mission because the deployment lacked Parliament’s approval. He said during the approval of the defence budget as a committee, it was explicitly conditioned on the government tabling a motion in Parliament for approval. However, to date, no such motion has been presented even though funds were allocated for the operation.
Additional reporting by Jerome Kule Bitswande