“We have received increased signals of intended, active, hostile activities against Uganda which necessitated beefing up security along our common border,” Richard Karemire, Uganda’s army spokesperson, told RFI.
The Ugandan army used its air force and artillery division in the operation on 22 December, according to Karemire. No Ugandan troops were deployed inside the DRC, he said.
The ADF had been active in recruiting, training and radicalising women and children, as well as working with foreign jihadists, carrying out civilian massacres, killing peacekeepers, attacking Congolese army positions and killing Muslim clerics in Uganda, the army spokesperson said.
The death toll from the operation was confirmed through “intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets” in addition to “shared intelligence with the DRC authorities”, said Karemire in a telephone interview from Kampala.
“This operation targeted the historical camps of the ADF which are located in the general area of Erengeti in North Kivu province,” said the spokesperson, listing Medina, Canada, Abia, Topoke, Kajaju, Camp Richard, Makayoba and Sangote.
In addition to eliminating a number of ADF fighters, the operation also destroyed “stores where they kept their food and ammunition", Karemire said, pointing out that civilian casualties were unlikely given that they had “intelligence on exactly where these camps were located”.
“As long as the ADF continues to exist and is a menace to the region, there will be further operations and strikes against them,” said Karemire. “We'll never allow them to kill our innocent people and get away with it.”
Was ADF responsible for attack on peacekeepers?
Experts and observers continue to question the exact ideology, make up and modus operandi of the ADF group.
The UN said suspected ADF fighters were responsible for the attack on UN peacekeepers earlier in December that left 14 Tanzanian blue helmets dead. However, some are not so sure.
“It’s still unclear who carried out the attack on the peacekeepers,” said Kristof Titeca, from the University of Ghent’s Institute of Development Policy and Management.
“The ADF is very much embedded in this landscape with a multitude of armed groups with a variety of alliances,” said Titeca, who researches the ADF group.
He also questions the purported links between the ADF and foreign jihadists as well as the motives for the military operation at this particular time.
“This claim has been made for the past 15 years and it has been used extensively by the Ugandan government and military - that they work with Al-Qaeda, they’re trained by Bin Laden, etc,” said Titeca. “These links are there, but the proof, which has been shown for this, is very limited.”
“In the past, the ADF has always been politically useful for a range of actors, it’s been politically useful to attribute attacks to them, but also from a geopolitical perspective, it’s been useful,” said Titeca.
The Congolese army were pursuing ADF fighters who survived the assault, the Ugandan military said, while troops were deployed in some border areas to prevent ADF rebels from entering Ugandan territory.