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Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni announced on November 10th that Uganda's military operation against the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) rebel group in the Democratic Republic of Congo has killed over 560 militants since 2021. However, analysts warn that Museveni's related call for Congolese militias to supplement efforts against the ISIS-linked ADF risks aggravating instability.
In an address, Museveni claimed Uganda's Operation Shujaa has inflicted major damage on the ADF in eastern DRC. He cited 567 rebels killed, 50 captured, and 32 surrendered, with multiple ammunition caches seized. The ADF has been largely expelled from bordering areas and pushed toward Ituri province.
Museveni credited Ugandan troops with "clearing" the Rwenzori mountains of ADF presence alongside Congolese forces. But he admitted the militants retain some capacity to regroup and cause trouble absent continuous military pressure.
In response, the Ugandan leader proposed deploying local Congolese militia to guard recaptured villages and prevent ADF re-infiltration. Mobile Ugandan units would actively pursue rebels under this approach, with militia providing static village defense.
However, analysts warn enlisting local armed groups risks further destabilizing conflict-prone eastern Congo. Empowering militia forces with murky allegiances could sow increased violence toward civilians.
Uganda considers the ADF an acute national security threat due to a spate of deadly bombings attributed to the group on Ugandan soil. Museveni vowed retaliation for attempted attacks on Kampala using improvised explosive devices in November.
But completely neutralizing the ADF's cross-border capabilities has proven elusive for Ugandan forces. Mountainous jungle terrain and porous borders limit military efforts. Persistent ADF attacks despite claimed Ugandan progress also test Museveni's reassurances.
Moreover, distrust between Ugandan and Congolese forces complicates coordinated counterinsurgency operations. Congo controversially declined to renew a previous UPDF authorization to pursue the ADF on Congolese soil. Museveni may lack influence with Congo's government to effectively implement joint security initiatives.
Still, the UPDF remains determined to degrade the ADF, which has killed thousands of Congolese civilians while increasingly targeting Uganda. Expanding cooperation with volatile local militias signals Uganda's commitment to containing the threat through unconventional means if required.
But such calculated risks have backfired before in the Congo. Indigenous armed groups have violently turned on each other and the government during periods of instability. Empowering militia to fight the ADF today could sow the seeds of greater upheaval tomorrow.
With ISIS injecting the ADF with weapons and tactical training in recent years, a purely military solution remains elusive. A comprehensive political and economic stabilization strategy in neglected eastern Congo is widely seen as the only sustainable remedy to rebel recruitment and attacks.
In the absence of such comprehensive approaches, Museveni appears resigned to indefinite counterinsurgency operations against a fluid ADF threat. But his controversial gambit to supplement UPDF troops with local militias could have unpredictable consequences. With armed groups and civiliansboth suffering from ADF attacks, Museveni may be wise to exercise caution before adding fuel to Congo's complex conflict.
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