ERIKAS MWISI KAMBALE
UGANDA and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have mounted air and artillery strikes in a joint operation in eastern Congo against an Islamic State-linked militia, both countries said.
Three witnesses also said that Ugandan troops crossed the border into DRC at Nobili in the afternoon. DRC’s government spokesman Patrick Muyaya denied Ugandan soldiers had crossed but Ugandan army spokeswoman Flavia Byekwaso said they had.
The strikes targeted the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) militia, which has been based in the DRC since the late 1990s and is blamed for killing hundreds of villagers in raids after it pledged allegiance to Islamic State in mid-2019.
IS has in turn claimed responsibility for some of the ADF’s violence, including a string of recent bombings in Uganda, but United Nations researchers have found no evidence of IS command and control over ADF operations.
Ugandan spokeswoman Byekwaso said she was yet to receive details of the attacks on ADF bases, but they would not be a one-off.
“As announced, the targeted and concerted actions with the Ugandan army started today with airstrikes and artillery fire from Uganda on the positions of ADF terrorists in the DRC,” Congo spokesman Patrick Muyaya said on Twitter.
The joint offensive is the first time Uganda has publicly intervened against the ADF in Congo since a brief campaign in December 2017.
A local chief and a resident said they heard explosions on Tuesday morning in Watalinga territory, North Kivu province, in the borderlands of eastern DRC.
“There is a real panic here at home, especially because we were not informed of this situation,” said resident Julien Ngandayabo. “We have suffered too much with the ADF, who have massacred our families. We are waiting to see if this is the solution.”
At around 16:15 local time Fabien Malule, a resident of the Congolese border town of Nobili, said he saw many Ugandan troops enter Congolese territory with their weapons.
“Today it is really a joy for some inhabitants here in Nobili. For me personally, as we have suffered too much, I prefer to wait for the result of their fight,” Malule said.
A Congo army spokesman, Antony Mwalushay, said three ADF fighters were killed and three wounded during intense fighting at Semuliki bridge, which connects the city of Beni to Uganda. One Congolese soldier was killed, he added.
A triple suicide bombing in Kampala on November 16, which killed seven people, including the bombers, was the third Islamic State has claimed in Uganda.
Underpaid and poorly disciplined, Congo’s army would have difficulty in seriously degrading the capabilities of the ADF alone, said J. Peter Pham, former U.S. envoy for the Sahel and Great Lakes regions of Africa.
“(But) any presence of foreign forces risks considerable blowback politically and, if sustained over any amount of time, even strategically,” Pham told Reuters.
Uganda’s response risked triggering a wave of retaliatory attacks against civilians, and stoking regional rivalries, analysts said.
“On paper the Ugandan army are targeting the ADF, but in practice this kind of intervention could cause massive upheaval and suffering, while also re-energising some other Congolese armed factions on the ground,” said Dino Mahtani from Brussels-based think-tank International Crisis Group.