Uganda Seeks Expansion of Anti-Terror Operation in DRC Amidst Diplomatic Storm: A Tale of Regional Cooperation and Controversy
Uganda is poised to seek authorization from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) for an expansion of their joint anti-terrorism operation against the Allied Defence Forces (ADF), suggesting the pursuit may extend further. However, this move by President Yoweri Museveni has not been without controversy, as it has drawn criticism from former Congolese President Joseph Kabila, who accused Museveni of being an expansionist and destabilizer.
In a recent address to the nation on security matters, President Museveni commended Kabila’s successor, Felix Tshisekedi, for permitting the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) to operate in the DRC since November 2021. He expressed Uganda’s willingness to deploy troops to Mbandaka, a location outside the current operation area, if the Congolese government grants permission, while also securing Uganda’s borders.
Expanding the operational territory of “Operation Shujaa,” as it is officially known, has been a contentious issue in the past, as well as the question of increasing troop numbers on the ground.
Sources familiar with the discussions reveal that President Tshisekedi, whom Museveni referred to as more cooperative than his predecessor, has hesitated to approve the expansion due to pressure from officials in Kinshasa.
Museveni’s praise for Tshisekedi and his determination to push further into the Congo in pursuit of the ADF have unsettled Kabila. Through his spokesperson, Barbara Nzimbi, Kabila dismissed Museveni’s accusations as baseless attempts to distract and divide the Congolese people. Nzimbi emphasized that Kabila’s government had consistently informed the United Nations and the international community about the atrocities committed by the rebels and their recognition of the ADF as a terrorist group.
Museveni highlighted how his government’s strong army, effective intelligence service, and political stability have successfully kept the ADF mostly out of Uganda since their defeat in Semliki Valley in 2007. He claimed that Kabila had allowed the ADF to operate freely in North Kivu and Ituri province, engaging in activities such as gold mining, timber trade, cocoa harvesting, tax collection, and extortion, all due to Kinshasa’s reluctance to accept assistance in dealing with the group.
Ferdinand Kambere, deputy secretary-general of Kabila’s PPRD party, dismissed Museveni’s remarks, accusing him of seeking to maintain control over the DRC through a puppet government in Kinshasa.
“Operation Shujaa” has involved aerial bombardments of rebel camps and infantry fighting, pushing the ADF deeper into the DRC while inflicting casualties and looting. However, the rebels have now shifted their tactics to terrorizing unarmed civilians in rural areas, moving in smaller groups away from the frontlines.
The UPDF spokesperson, Brigadier Felix Kulayigye, confirmed that Uganda aims to receive permission to extend the operation beyond the current area known as the “Death Triangle.” A UN group of experts reported that the ADF was expanding its operations with funding from the Islamic State, and the joint efforts by the Congolese and Ugandan armies were not achieving the desired results.
While Museveni has engaged in diplomatic talks with his Congolese counterpart, formal requests for expansion are yet to be made. A recent statement from State House in Entebbe indicated that Museveni received a “special message” from President Tshisekedi, delivered by DRC State Minister for Regional Integration, Mbusa Nyamwisi, and a special adviser to President Tshisekedi, Kanku Shiku.
As the two countries navigate the complexities of dealing with the ADF and the wider implications of extending their joint operation, the ultimate goal of eliminating the rebel group remains at the forefront of their discussions.