The Ugandan military announced the start of joint raids with its neighbour, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), to smoke out members of the armed group Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), which continues to operate along the border of both countries.
Ugandan authorities have blamed the ADF for deadly suicide bombings in the capital, Kampala, earlier this month. The armed group has been accused of carrying out dozens of attacks in eastern DRC.
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The ADF, which the United States has deemed a “terrorist” group, is considered the deadliest of dozens of armed militias that roam mineral-rich eastern DRC. In August, the Congolese government agreed to let US special forces join in battling the group.
According to the Catholic Church in the country, the ADF has killed about 6,000 civilians since 2013. US-based monitor the Kivu Security Tracker (KST) blames it for more than 1,200 deaths in the Beni area alone since 2017.
In 1995, the ADF was formed by a coalition of rebel forces – including the Uganda Muslim Liberation Army and the National Army for the Liberation of Uganda (NALU) – to fight against the Yoweri Museveni administration. They first set up camp in western Uganda before moving into the DRC and received support from the Sudanese government, which had an axe to grind with Museveni.
Its leader, Jamil Mukulu, was born a Christian but converted to Islam and embraced the doctrine of Salafism while studying in Saudi Arabia. Upon his return to Uganda, he joined the NALU.
When its leader died in 1995, he marshalled similar groups together with a common goal of establishing an Islamic state and formed the ADF. In the course of their mission, they recruited hundreds of children kidnapped to be child soldiers and trained some to be suicide bombers.
Over the years, the ADF was backed by subsequent governments of DR Congo that were keen on subverting Rwandan and Ugandan influence in the country.
But in 2013, the ADF began attacking Congolese military targets, leading the army to fight back. Consequently, Mululu fled to Tanzania in 2015, where he was arrested and extradited to his home country to stand trial on charges of terrorism.
In recent years, the ADF has been linked to the armed group ISIL (ISIS) and has referred to itself as the Madina at Tauheed Wau Mujahideen – City of Monotheism and Holy Warriors (MTM).