On the second day of an operation launched in collaboration with Kinshasa against the notorious ADF rebel group, witnesses said Ugandan troops increased their deployment in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo on Wednesday.
“They are arriving in armored cars accompanied by members of the local security services,” Tony Kitambala, a freelance journalist based in North Kivu province, told Nobili on the border.
Ugandan soldiers were seen crossing into the DRC on Tuesday following aerial and artillery attacks from Ugandan territory by their armed forces.
The targets are the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a group that has been blamed for genocide in eastern DRC and attacks in the Ugandan capital, and the Islamic State group claims as an ally.
Over the weekend, the DRC said through an advisor to the president that it approved Uganda’s offer to advance the ADF on its soil, where the group has been hiding since the mid-1990s.
An aid worker in Nobili said “airstrikes on ADF positions continued until yesterday evening” but the situation was calm on Wednesday.
“This morning, the UPDF (Uganda Armed Forces) is strengthening its troops with men, ammunition and military trucks,” he said.
DRC army spokesman Leon Richard Kasonga told reporters late Wednesday that “we bombed terrorist camps in the jungle.”
“We are in the field for far-reaching operations,” he said, without giving any details about the number of troops deployed or how long the mission would last.
A senior DRC military official said Congolese troops were moving from neighboring South Kivu towards Beni, the capital of North Kivu province.
The bombing was aimed at several ADF positions in the northeast in North Kivu and neighboring Ituri Province.
On Tuesday, a spokesman for Ugandan armed forces said the bombing had successfully hit their targets and that ground operations would hunt down “terrorists”.
Massacre and Explosion
The ADF was historically a Ugandan rebel coalition, with the largest group consisting of Muslims opposed to Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni.
The group established itself in the eastern DRC in 1995, later becoming the deadliest of scores of illegal forces in the troubled region.
The DRC’s Catholic Church says the ADF has killed nearly 6,000 civilians since 2013, while a respected monitor, the Kivu Security Tracker, blames it for more than 1,200 deaths in the area since 2017 alone.
Ugandan authorities have accused the ADF or a local group affiliated with it of carrying out or planning several attacks this year.
On 16 November, four people were killed and 33 were injured in double suicide bombings in Kampala. Police attributed the blast to a “domestic terrorist group”, which it said was linked to the ADF.
Since April 2019, some ADF attacks in eastern DRC have been claimed by IS, which describes the group as an offshoot of its Islamic State Central Africa province.
In March, the United States placed the ADF on its list of “terrorist” organizations affiliated with IS.
relief but worry
The Ugandan intervention comes despite a crackdown on the ADF by the Congolese armed forces launched two years ago.
This has been followed by a “state of siege” in North Kivu and Ituri since early May, whereby senior civilian officers have been replaced by the military or police.
Residents said they welcomed the attack against the ADF, but hoped the operation would pave the way for peace.
Nobili resident Jospin Dongo said, “I am very happy at the arrival of Ugandan troops in our country.”
Another resident, Mugisa Kitambala, said, “As far as I am concerned, the main thing is that we have peace once again.
“But they also have to tell us how long the mission will last and how many (soldiers) have entered so that in the end we know they have gone home.”
The notion of Ugandan soldiers operating on DRC soil is controversial in a country where many remember Uganda and Rwanda’s role in fueling past instability in the country’s east.
Denis Mukwege, a DRC gynecologist who won the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize for helping victims of sexual violence in South Kivu, said the DRC-Uganda agreement was “unacceptable”.
“It’s been 25 years since our neighbors committed mass crime and looted our resources,” he said in a tweet. “Congolese, stand up, the country is in danger!”
Other prominent figures have questioned the lack of transparency behind the agreement, which was reached without consultation with parliament or even a statement by President Felix Tshisekedi to announce it.
Government spokesman Patrick Muaya said on Wednesday that “the relationship between the countries continues to evolve.”
“We understand the concerns of our countrymen” but “have chosen to move forward,” he said.