Face of an East African Enemy of Peace: Profile of Uganda’s ADF

Jason Stearns, lead author of the Congo Research Group report at New York University agrees the ADF was partly responsible for [past] killings in the DRC – Uganda border area but he adds the group was not working alone.

Although there is no consensus in the media, one source suggests that the Ugandan Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) terrorist group created in 1995—which is  the group the United Nations suspects carried  out the killing of Tanzanian soldiers in Northern Kivu–has links with Somalia’s al-Shabab terrorist group.


By TZ Business News Staff.


As Tanzania reels from the shock of losing 14 soldiers serving as peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), press reports suggest the enemy may be an Islamist terrorist group supported by Sudan, Iran and the United Arab Amirates.

And although there is no consensus in the media, one source suggests that the Ugandan Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) terrorist group created in 1995—which is  the group the United Nations suspects carried  out the killing of Tanzanian soldiers in Northern Kivu–has links with Somalia’s al-Shabab terrorist group.

Tanzania’s shock began late Friday afternoon on December 8, 2017 as the international media published the UN report announcing that 14 Tanzanian soldiers had been killed in an ambush the evening of December 7, 2017, when “suspected ADF elements conducted an attack against a MONUSCO Company Operating Base at Force at Semuliki in Beni territory, North Kivu.”

The attack resulted in protracted fighting between the suspected ADF elements and MONUSCO and FARDC Forces, according to the UN report.

The British Guardian said heavily armed militants from a local Islamist extremist group overran a remote base in the east of the vast central African country after hours of confused fighting late on Thursday. More than 50 casualties were left in a critical condition and the death toll was expected to rise.

Details emerged of a well-coordinated and complex operation launched at dusk. The attackers, armed with mortars and rocket-propelled grenades, destroyed two armoured personnel carriers, an ambulance and a truck before withdrawing.

UN attack helicopters have limited night vision equipment and remained grounded throughout the four-hour assault, according to the British Guardian newspaper.  Most of the dead and wounded were from Tanzania, the country which has more than a thousand soldiers serving as peacekeepers in the DRC.

The base at Semuliki  was home to the peacekeeping mission’s rapid intervention force, which has a rare mandate to go on the offensive. The Tanzanian contingent is generally considered among the better armed and trained elements of the 21,000-strong UN force.

Janes Defence Weekly says Tanzanian and  Congolese forces are trained by the Chinese. The Chinese military has recently undertaken bilateral training activities with the Tanzania Naval Command (TNC), and completed the training of a new rapid reaction brigade for the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (FARDC), according to Janes.

Details of the Tanzanian training programme were revealed when a People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) flotilla consisting of a destroyer, a frigate, and a supply vessel visited Dar es Salaam on 16–20 August.  In the DRC, President Joseph Kabila on 12 August presided over the passing-out parade of the army’s 32nd Rapid Reaction Brigade, which was activated after 18 months of training.

The Tanzania minister for Defence and National Service, Dr Hussein Mwinyi  has said Tanzania is not intimidated by the killing of its soldiers in the DRC.  He said all other Tanzanian peacemakers still in the DRC and other countries will not return home until they fulfill their mission.

The Chief of Tanzania Defence Forces (CDF), General Venance Mabeyo said the conditions of injured soldiers – currently in various hospitals in the DRC provinces of Goma and Kinshansa and in Uganda – were improving.

“I just want to tell people to calm down because our military force is still strong,” the CDF was quoted by the Government owned Daily News as saying, adding that one of two Tanzanian solders who went missing after the attack has been found. “We found
him alive and he is at the hospital receiving treatment.”

The UN Secretary General António Guterres  initially said at least 12 Tanzanian peacekeepers had been killed on duty in North Kivu but the UN later confirmed the number of dead was 14 Tanzanian peacekeepers who had been killed in an attack by an armed militia group.  The UN described the attack as the worst against a peacekeeping mission in recent history.

Guterres condemned the attack “unequivocally” saying “deliberate attacks against UN peacekeepers are unacceptable and constitute a war crime.”

The Special Representative of the Secretary General of the United Nations in the DRC and Head of MONUSCO, Maman Sidikou said  “I wish to convey my sincere condolences to the families and loved ones of peacekeepers and FARDC soldiers who lost their lives, or were injured in the service of peace in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.”

“ I condemn in the strongest terms this deadly attack on United Nations peacekeepers and the FARDC. Attacks against those who are working in the service of peace and stability in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are cowardly and constitute serious violations. MONUSCO will take all actions to ensure that the perpetrators are held accountable and brought to justice” the Special Representative said. MONUSCO and the FARDC are coordinating a joint response.

The loss is the most serious suffered in a single day by the UN since 24 Pakistani soldiers were killed in an ambush in Somalia in 1993. Local officials said Congolese army troops stationed several miles from the base also sustained casualties when they attempted to come to the aid of the UN forces, but were ambushed and beaten back, the Guardian newspaper reported.

The attack on the base has been blamed by the UN on the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a local group that adheres to a rigorous Islamist vision and has a history of violence.

Jason Stearns, director of the Congo Research Group at New York University, said: “The ADF is an Islamist armed group which imposes discipline based on a strict interpretation of the sharia and which is known to be extremely brutal. It is very likely the ADF were involved but also other groups … The ADF have been in the area for 20 years and has deep links with all kinds of people.”

The ADF has launched a series of bloody attacks in recent months. UN forces and national Congolese troops have mounted operations against the group. A peacekeeper was shot and killed during a firefight in September. At least 26 people were killed in an attack on civilians on motorbikes in October near Beni that was blamed on the group. Two peacekeepers were killed and several wounded in a separate attack.

The group largely composed of Muslim converts, is not thought to have any significant links to other Islamist extremist organisations in Africa or the Middle East, although a video recently surfaced showing fighters apparently in DRC claiming allegiance to Islamic State.

A UN report profiles the ADF as a militant group which uses child soldiers even as it violates other human rights. The UN says ADF was created in 1995 and is located in the mountainous DRC-Uganda border area.

According to the United Nations Group of Experts (GoE) on the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s (“GoE”) 2013 final report, citing Ugandan officials and UN sources, in 2013 the ADF had an estimated strength of 1,200 to 1,500 armed fighters located in north-east Beni Territory of North Kivu province, close to the border with Uganda.  These same sources estimate ADF’s total membership — including women and children — to be between 1,600 and 2,500.

Due to offensive military operations by the Congolese Armed Forces (FARDC) and the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) conducted in 2013 and 2014, ADF dispersed its fighters to numerous smaller bases, and moved women and children to areas west of Beni, and along the Ituri-North Kivu border.

The ADF’s military commander is Hood Lukwago and its supreme leader is the individual Jamil Mukulu now detained in Uganda.

One UN document says the ADF has committed serious violations of international law and UNSCR 2078 (2012);  it has recruited and used child soldiers in violation of applicable international law (UNSCR paragraph 4 (d)). The GoE’s 2013 final report states that the GoE interviewed three former ADF fighters who had escaped during 2013 and who described how ADF recruiters in Uganda lure people to the DRC with false promises of employment (for adults) and free education (for children) and then force them to join the ADF.

“The Africa Report”  has cited allegations that the ADF is allegedly recruiting children as young as 10 years of age as child soldiers and cites a Uganda People’s Defence Force (UPDF) spokesperson as stating that the UPDF rescued 30 children from a training camp on Buvuma Island in Lake Victoria.  The ADF has also committed numerous violations of international human rights and international humanitarian law against women and children, including killing, maiming, and sexual violence (UNSCR paragraph 4 (e).

The Alliance of Democratic Forces (ADF) is made up of Ugandan opposition forces, supported by the Government of Sudan, which fought the Government of Uganda, according to Globalsecurity.Org,  an independent defence affairs website based in Alexandria, Virginia, USA.

The ADF, originally a Ugandan based insurgency, now operates in eastern DRC and is listed by the US as a terrorist organization. The Ugandan government has alleged that ADF has support from Sudan, an assertion backed up by Western diplomatic sources. It also says the ADF has links with Somalia’s al-Shabab, although some analysts contest this.  Analysts agree, however, that the group has a bad human rights record.

The ADF is led by Jamir Mukulu, a Muslim known to be the personal friend of the late Osama bin Laden. The ADF leader is now detained in Uganda. The ADF operates in western Uganda. Historically the terrorist group has used the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) territory for its bases. However, the ADF was initially severely crippled by the establishment of Laurent Kabila’s Government in the DRC in May 1997 and by its subsequent provision to the UPDF of access to rebel bases in the DRC.

GlobalSecurity.Org says the United Arab Emirates was the ADF’s main arms supplier. Iran, another Islamic State, was also supplying arms to the ADF via an Islamic foundation based in South Africa. In July 1999, The Monitor newspaper estimated that 1500 of 2000 ADF rebels had been killed, leaving only 500 in hiding in the Rwenzori mountains and in August 1999 they allegedly wrote to the UPDF Commander in the region asking for peace talks, saying they were tired of fighting. The UPDF had guaranteed their negotiators’ safety but remained sceptical as to the real intentions of the group.

The ADF launched its first attack against Uganda in 1996 and has been shrouded in mystery ever since. It periodically disappears and resurfaces, according to GlobalSecurity.Org. Supplied largely by the Sudanese secret services to wage a proxy war against Uganda.

Largely dismantled by Ugandan offensives carried out in late 1998, the movement was subsequently largely dormant. Ugandan officials also charged that there are continuing links between the Allied Democratic Forces and al-Shabaab.

On 09 December 1999 the Allied Democratic Forces began a renewed offensive in the Fort Portal Town, Kabarole district, and Bundibugyo Town, Bundibugyo district areas. These actions, which may have been instigated to combat the UPDF offensive “Operation Mountain Sweep,” targeted barracks and a regional prison. In western Uganda, the ADF conducted an abusive campaign in the Rwenzori mountain region, where they brutalised and killed civilians and looted. Hundreds of civilians were killed in ADF raids and ambushes on unprotected civilian homes throughout 1999.

Uganda’s minister of internal affairs told Parliament as recently as 2002 that the ADF had ties with al-Qaida. It was claimed that Al-Qaida helped set up training camps for the ADF which operated out of Eastern Congo.

In the past, the ADF made incursions into western Uganda along the Muzizi River, near Semliki National Park in Bundibugyo District. The ADF launched offensive actions into western Uganda in March 2007; the Ugandan military counter-attacked. This offensive military action resulted in the killing or capturing of 100 ADF fighters. The Government of Uganda remains vigilant for threats from the ADF but most analysts agree the ADF poses little threat to security in Uganda.

By 2007 foreign armed groups operating in the DRC were not just an internal problem; they are also a source of friction between the Congo and its neighbors. The presence of ADF bases was a major factor leading to the eventual Ugandan People’s Defense Force [UPDF] invasion of northeastern DRC. In 2010, ADF forces were active in Beni district near the Ugandan border.

In June 2010, after consultations between the governments of Uganda and DRC, the Congolese armed forces launched a military operation known as Rwenzori against the ADF and its allies in Beni. The military operation dislodged ADF forces but also displaced an estimated 100,000 Congolese civilians, according to U.N. officials.

By July 2010 high levels of insecurity attributed to attacks by the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) and Mai Mai combatants, as well as fighting between the Armed Forces of the DRC (FARDC) and Allied Democratic Forces-National Army for the Liberation of Uganda (ADF/NALU), continued to result in population displacement in North Kivu Province, according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). As of August 31, approximately 890,000 of the more than 1.9 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) resided in North Kivu Province. Violence and population displacement also extended into South Kivu Province. On July 22, the Congolese armed forces (FARDC) launched an offensive against ADF/NALU combatants in Beni Territory. As of July 30, fighting had displaced an estimated 65,000 people within the territory, according to NGOs working in the area. Persistent insecurity in the region continued to limit humanitarian access and discourage repatriation.

The ADF, with an estimated 1,200 to 1,500 armed fighters, launched a series of attacks in 2013 against civilians in the DRC, forcing thousands of people to flee into Uganda and abducting or killing those that attempted to return. The ADF was also responsible for brutal attacks on women and children in several villages, including acts of beheading, mutilation, and rape. In recent years, the ADF has boosted its numbers through kidnapping as well as recruiting children, allegedly as young as 10 years old, to serve as child soldiers against the Ugandan government.

A United Nations human rights report released 13 May 2015 said that the Uganda-based Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) committed grave violations of international humanitarian law in crisis-riven north-eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The report said that the ADF committed the violations, which were systematic and extremely brutal, and which may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity, over a three-month period at the end of 2014 in Beni territory, North Kivu province.

“In light of the magnitude and the persistence of the attacks by ADF combatants, I call upon the Congolese authorities to take, as soon as possible, all the necessary measures to put an end to the massacres of civilians,” said the [then] Special Representative of the Secretary-General in the DRC, Martin Kobler.

In total, ADF combatants attacked 35 villages, killing at least 237 civilians, including 65 women and 35 children, between 1 October and 31 December 2014, with a further 47 civilians wounded, 20 abducted and two sexually abused. Several cases of looting and destruction of property were also documented. The attackers used machetes, hammers and knives, among other weapons, to wound or execute civilians. Some had their throats slit, were shot at while trying to flee or were burned alive in their homes.

Formal collaboration between the Congolese army and the approximately 17,000 peacekeepers in MONUSCO was suspended in February 2015 over UN objections to the appointment of two suspected human rights abusers to command a joint operation. Since then, the army’s collaboration with MONUSCO against the ADF had been limited. Some 450 civilians had been killed by the ADF and other forces in Beni territory in dozens of incidents in the year since October 2014. Since mid-2015, the Congolese army has taken a more aggressive stance, and there has been increased fighting between soldiers and armed groups sometimes described as “presumed ADF.”

In October 2015 the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s army launched an offensive in Beni territory against Ugandan Islamist ADF rebels, who had stepped up attacks on army positions. The UN-supported Radio Okapi, said the large-scale offensive, launched 30 October 2015, was backed by the intervention brigade of the UN mission, MONUSCO. The support was largely the provision of logistical support, water, health care and things like that, and there was no joint planning of operations.

By March 2016 attacks on civilians in the Beni region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo had killed at least 550 people over 18 months. Congolese officials placed the blame on the Allied Democratic Forces, characterized as a Ugandan Islamist movement, but a report from the Congo Research Group says it may not be that simple.

Jason Stearns, lead author of the Congo Research Group report at New York University agrees the ADF was partly responsible for killings in the DRC – Uganda border area but he adds the group was not working alone.

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