On Saturday 30 November, military officials in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) announced on Saturday that the army had killed a prominent leader of the rebel Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) in an operation in the nation’s northeast. This successful military assault comes after two weeks of brutal attacks perpetrated by the ADF in the province of North Kivu. The latest attack by the ADF, in the village of Kukutama, occurred mere hours before the reported military operation.
General Leon Richard Kasonga, spokesman for the DRC’s armed forces, told Al Jazeera that soldiers had killed Mouhamed Mukubwa Islam, one of the three major leaders of the ADF. Speaking to reporters, Kasonga said, “The killing of this leader is another sign that we have the capacity to end this rebellion in the coming days.” Renewed efforts to stamp out the ADF have met with relative success in recent weeks; prior to the attack which resulted in the death of Islam, Congolese forces killed another senior leader of the group, Nasser Abdullayi Kikuku. However, civilian casualties have continued to mount as the ADF increases its attacks in the region. The killings which took place in Kukutama were followed by protests throughout the eastern DRC, with some UN facilities being attacked by angry civilians. Kasonga told reporters that this was part of the ADF’s strategy to destabilise the region: “It will not be an easy task [defeating ADF] as the enemy is trying to turn the [local] population and opinions against the army by killing people in the city.”
Despite the name, the ADF are not actually a legion of ‘democratic rebels’. The ADF in its current form can best be characterised as an extremist Islamic insurgency, thought to be allied with the likes of Al-Shabaab and ISIL. Operating in both the DRC and neighbouring Uganda, the ADF is also aligned with group’s such as Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army. Conflict between the ADF and the DRC has been ongoing since the late 1990s, but violence in the region has escalated recently as the DRC has renewed its attempts to defeat the group. The region in which they operate has long been neglected by central government, and the ADF’s ongoing brutal attacks – often involving the mutilation of corpses – is designed to strike fear into local populations. If the price of increased government involvement is this sort of violence, then it can easily be imagined that the general population of the eastern DRC would prefer central government to stay out of the region. This, in turn, would grant insurgent groups greater political power.
Ongoing military action by the army of the DRC is a worthy initiative. The DRC has been historically wracked with violence and instability, and these current attempts to wipe out the insurgents and provide stability should be praised. However, simply attempting to end the current conflict through military action has no guarantee of success. Counter-insurgency is a difficult military operation, and can rapidly lead to worsening conditions for civilians. In order to effectively combat the ADF, it is also important for leaders of the DRC to acknowledge, and try to remedy, the issues which are facing those living in the eastern part of the country. Concerns have also been raised over the seeming lack of assistance that United Nations forces in the region are contributing. Further action could perhaps be undertaken by UN Peacekeepers to ensure greater safety for civilians, and protect them from the ongoing violence.