Ugandan troops crossed into the Democratic Republic of Congo on Tuesday as part of a joint operation against a notorious militia that both countries accuse of massacring civilians.
The two countries announced that the operation began with morning artillery and air strikes against the ADF armed group, which has risen to become the deadliest of many militias plaguing DR Congo‘s east.
Then large numbers of Ugandan soldiers entered DR Congo at the Nobili border post in North Kivu state, a UN source and an aid worker told AFP on condition of anonymity.
“It’s a column of very well-armed troops on foot, followed by armoured vehicles,” the aid worker said.
Video shared on social media also showed advancing soldiers whose uniforms bore the Ugandan flag.
“As announced, targeted and concerted action with the Ugandan army started today with air strikes and artillery fire from Uganda against positions of the terrorist ADF in the DRC,” Congolese government spokesman and Communications Minister Patrick Muyaya wrote on Twitter.
Ugandan army spokeswoman Flavia Byekwaso said in a statement that “targets were accurately hit” earlier Tuesday.
DR Congo army spokesman Leon-Richard Kasonga said 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 ADF positions affected by this morning’s strikes.”
Government spokesman Muyaya added that “it was agreed after evaluation to continue in-depth operations by the special forces of two countries”.
Eyewitnesses 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 neighboring Ituri province.
The strikes came two days after a senior Congolese source reported that President Felix Tshisekedi had given Uganda permission to pursue the ADF on DR Congo soil.
The move is not universally supported in the DRC, where many critics recall the role of Uganda and Rwanda in the decades-long instability in the east of the country.
Earlier today: elements of the Ugandan army are preparing to enter the Congolese territory in the Beni region after directing air and artillery strikes on sites they claimed were controlled by IS militants this morning, Tuesday 30/11/2021.#DRC #Uganda pic.twitter.com/P9YGY1tON9
— Serial Tweeper🕵🏿♂️ (@serialTweeper) November 30, 2021
The ADF, linked by the United States to the Islamic State group, is deeply feared in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
The DR Congo’s Catholic Church says the ADF has killed around 6,000 civilians since 2013 while a respected monitor, the Kivu Security Tracker, blames it for more than 1,200 deaths in North Kivu’s Beni area alone since 2017.
The Ugandan authorities recently accused the ADF or a local group affiliated with it of carrying out or planning attacks.
The ADF was historically a Ugandan rebel coalition whose biggest group comprised Muslims opposed to Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni.
The group established itself in eastern DRC in 1995, later becoming the deadliest of scores of outlawed forces in the troubled region.
Since April 2019, some ADF attacks have been claimed by IS, which describes the group as its Islamic State Central Africa Province offshoot.
In March, the United States placed the ADF on its list of “terrorist” organizations linked to IS.
On November 16, four people were killed and 33 wounded in twin suicide bombings in the Ugandan capital Kampala, which police attributed to a “domestic terror group” linked to the ADF.
The blasts, claimed by IS, came on the heels of a bomb attack at a roadside eatery on October 23 that killed one woman, and a suicide blast on a bus near Kampala on October 25 that wounded several people.
In late October, the Ugandan police said they had arrested suspected ADF members, who they believed were plotting a new attack on “major installations.”
Uganda has also blamed the ADF for a foiled bomb attack in August on the funeral of an army commander who led a major offensive against Al-Shabaab militants in Somalia.
Three men were charged with terrorism on November 5 in relation to that incident.
The eastern DRC provinces of North Kivu and Ituri have been under a “state of siege” since May in a bid to step up a military offensive against the rebels, with soldiers replacing civil servants in key positions.