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Operations against ADF: A recap

Over the course of 2013, the ADF rebel group became increasingly active, sharply expanding kidnapping campaigns and attacking UN peacekeepers and towns in North Kivu province. As a a result, military operations against ADF called Sukola 1 (“clean”) started on 16 January 2014 in the town of Oicha, Beni territory. The operations were later carried out on the axes Mbau-Kamango, Kokola-Nadui and Kahinama-Nadui (map). It is noteworthy that the current operations are the sixth of its kind and are the most important ones in terms of men and military equipment deployed to engage the militia.

ADF lost its strongholds

The Congolese army has been successful when it comes to capturing strongholds of the ADF, including Chuchubo, Nadui, Canda, Commander Ibrahim Battle Group and Medina. On 14 April, after ten days of “intense combat”, the army reported the capture of Medina, a “formidable fortress” of the ADF, and headquarters of ADF leader Jamil Mukulu. A week later, an Ugandan army spokesperson alleged that “[t]he ADF has lost a large amount of weaponry. Their source of food is now no more, their supply lines were disrupted and their fighters are in disarray.” The Group of Experts believes that “FARDC has seized all known ADF camps.”

Fighters killed or captured

As for fighters killed or captured, the success is minor mainly because of inappropriate sensitization campaigns by the Congolese army. On 10 May, the Congolese army reported that ADF had killed 217 of its elements. The Group of Experts said that according to FARDC the rebels had wounded 416 soldiers as of 7 May 2014. While the Group “believes that those figures are reasonably accurate,” these numbers have to be treated with caution, however. In an informal meeting, a MONUSCO official lamented that the Congolese army has been hesitant to share details about the exact death toll.

As for the number of rebels killed, the army reportedly killed 531 combatants as of 7 May, a claim that the Group of Experts believe “may be exaggerated”, also because the group “could not identify the whereabouts of ADF casualties, which should be numerous.” No senior ADF leader is confirmed dead nor has the army captured many ADF combatants alive.

ADF’s leadership and remaining hostages

While the ADF has lost its strongholds, it was able to melt into the Rwenzori rain forest and others fled northward to Ituri. (This started as early as December 2013 before the military operations started.) ADF seems to be reorganizing with Jaber Ali Nansa as the new military commander while its head of ADF Jamil Mukulu has reportedly fled the DRC to an unknown location.

Of the about 900 hostages taken by ADF, only 146 have come back, according to a list compiled by local administrative and community leaders. In early September, a nurse of Doctors Without Borders was liberated. Three other staff remain missing.

The Group of Experts says that “the operation has produced few known escapes from ADF,” adding that since the operations started, “estimates of the number of people kidnapped by ADF have increased significantly.” It is likely that ADF fled with most of the hostages given that no mass graves have been found so far either by the army or independent sources.

Future of ADF

While hard hit, the ADF remains a guerrilla group to be reckoned with and whose comeback is possible if military pressure abates. In its recent report published on 25 June 2014, the UN Group of Experts says it “believes that the command and control of ADF remain intact and that it has the potential to reconstitute itself, as it did after Operation Rwenzori in 2010.” For ADF’s approximate location as of recent, see the mapping by Christoph Vogel.

With the passing of General Bahuma of the Congolese army, it is important that the army quickly reconstitutes and continues the pressure on the ADF. At the same time, it needs to reign in its elements, who have frequently misbehaved in the areas taken from the ADF. In a press release of June 24, civil society in Beni called for the enforcement of discipline within the Congolese armed forces.

Role of MONUSCO

The UN peacekeepers have been involved in the operations first providing logistical and intelligence support and later deploying military helicopters. Contrary to some rumors, the mission was not involved in actual ground operations, however.

As early as 18 January, MONUSCO had deployed the FIB, its North Kivu brigade and the Nepalese battalion to protect civilians and support the FARDC. A day later, MONUSCO’s military spokesperson reported (here and here) that they assist the FARDC with logistics and intelligence. Eventually in early March, MONUSCO deployed its military helicopters to attack a stronghold of ADF.

In unfortunate circumstances on 3 March, a man riding a motorcycle threw a grenade into a MONUSCO truck, wounding six MONUSCO soldiers. The mission has been unable to attribute responsibility to ADF for the attack, including the earlier one on 5 February.

Despite these cooperations, a MONUSCO official said that “I wouldn’t call the operations against ADF joint operations. There wasn’t really any joint planning. The FIB [Force Intervention Brigade] later joined in. That’s it.” Another MONUSCO official later confirmed the lack of genuine cooperation between the FARDC and FIB.

Role of Uganda

Military operations against the ADF also serve the interest of Uganda, which is amongst others concerned about instability close to its oil fields in the Albertine rift basin where Tullow Oil, Total and China’s CNOOC are slated to operate.

(Uganda expected in early May 2014 that the bulk of its commercial oil production will start by the end of 2017 as it awaits a pipeline to export crude oil and a refinery to be built. In late May 2014, the World Bank said it will fund infrastructure projects worth $245 million to revamp facilities in Uganda’s Albertine oil region, ahead of first oil production in the country.)

Two days into the operations against the ADF, on 18 January 2014, the Congolese army clarified that the Ugandan army does not participate in the fighting.

Wilson Asiimwe

Further readings:

For an extensive literature review on the ADF, see my earlier post from January 2014.

Photo credits: Reuters (# 1-3, 11-12), New Vision (# 4-6,8-9), Getty Images (# 7), AFP (# 10), Wilson Asiimwe (#13).

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