Congolese Forces Take the Offensive against Uganda’s ADF-NALU Militants

Andrew McGregor

March 20, 2014

Fresh from a victory over the rebel troops of the Mouvement du 23 Mars (M23) in the unsettled but resource-rich Nord-Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the Congolese army has launched an offensive against the self-described “Islamists” of the Allied Democratic Forces-National Army for the Liberation of Uganda (ADF-NALU) who have operated in that region since 2004. [1] After several years of dormancy, ADF-NALU renewed operations in July 2013 with a wave of raids, kidnappings, massacres of civilians and attacks on security forces and UN peacekeepers. The once poorly-armed ADF-NALU militants appear to be newly supplied with machine-guns, mortars and rockets to replace their previous reliance on machetes and knives. According to the UN, M23’s defeat was followed by large-scale surrenders by thousands of members of various militant groups in the Nord-Kivu region, but few of these came from ADF-NALU (IRIN, January 27).

ADF-NALU Militants

Operation Sokola

The operation against ADF-NALU was intended to begin in December 2013, but was delayed after the intended leader of the campaign, Colonel Mamadou Moustafa Ndala, was killed by a rocket in an ambush originally attributed to ADF-NALU fighters in early January (Uganda Radio Network, February 1). Ndala was the Muslim commander of the Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo (FARDC) in the eastern DRC and the successful leader of Congolese Special Forces operations against M23. The loss of the capable and popular colonel represents a serious blow to the Congolese army, a situation made worse by the claims of a bodyguard who survived the attack that the attackers were uniformed members of FARDC. Two individuals have been arrested in connection with the incident, including Colonel Tito Bizuru, who is described as a Tutsi, the same ethnic-group that formed the base of the rebel M23 movement (AFP, January 3; Africa Review [Nairobi], January 7; Jeune Afrique, January 22). [2]

FARDC launched its operation against ADF-NALU in the Beni region of Nord-Kivu on January 16. As operations began, Uganda’s military confirmed that it would not play a direct role in the campaign, preferring to only share intelligence with FARDC while maintaining a sufficient presence on the border to prevent fleeing elements of the ADF from entering Uganda (Reuters, January 13; IRIN, January 27). On February 14, the Congo government announced the destruction of the ADF’s headquarters in the ongoing offensive and the death of 230 ADF militants opposed to the loss of 22 members of FARDC (AP, February 14). The elimination of the ADF HQ brought about a personal call of congratulations to DRC president Joseph Kabila from long-time rival Yoweri Museveni, the president of Uganda (Observer [Kampala], February 10).

A new UN Intervention Brigade (IBDE), formed mainly by 3,000 troops drawn from Tanzania, Malawi and South Africa under the broader command of the Mission de l’Organisation des Nations Unies pour la stabilisation en RD du Congo (MONUSCO), has been deployed to the Nord-Kivu region with an offensive mandate enabling them to participate in operations designed to end the presence of a number of local and cross-border militant groups in the region.  Acting in support of FARDC troops, the combination has so far been effective in ending the once-potent M23 threat and has begun to turn its attention to the Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda (FDLR, a Hutu rebel group from Rwanda) as well as the ADF, though Rwanda recently complained MONUSCO was not committed to taking the fight to the FDLR (New Times [Kigali], March 14). Other MONUSCO forces are opening operations further south in Katanga province, where a company of Egyptian Special Forces troops has joined some 500 MONUSCO troops in operations against the Mai Mai Kata-Katanga militia. MONUSCO, with a strength of 18,000 troops, has also deployed two Italian-made Falco surveillance drones based in Goma (capital of Nord-Kivu) to track ADF and FDLR movements in the area (VOA, December 4, 2013).

On March 1, two MONUSCO attack helicopters struck an ADF-NALU base northeast of Beni, an isolated town in North Kivu that has become a center for ADF activities (AFP, March 2). The aircraft involved were likely South African Rooivalk combat support helicopters, previously used against M23 and deployed several days after the ADF-NALU operation in support of a successful FARDC attack on a base of the Alliance des patriotes pour un Congo libre et souverain (APCLS), a militant group based on the Hunde ethnic group of Nord-Kivu province. Support from the Rooivalk gunships has been instrumental in the recent and unprecedented success of the FARDC forces in Nord-Kivu. The Rooivalk is a formidable weapon in skilled hands, with stealth capabilities, a nose-mounted, dual-fed 20mm gas-operated cannon capable of firing 740 rounds a minute and 70mm folding-fin aerial rockets. There are reports that ADF-NALU fighters have broken into small groups headed further north to the Ituri Forest in Orientale Province to evade the ongoing FARDC-UN offensive (IRIN, January 27).

Rebels in Exile: The ADF

The ADF has its roots not in the western Uganda region, but in Kampala and central Uganda, where a number of Ugandan Muslim followers of the Indo-Pakistani Tablighi Jama’at (a normally non-violent Salafist religious reform movement) became radicalized in the early 1990s, claiming political persecution after they opposed the government’s appointment of a new national mufti (chief interpreter of Islamic law). Under pressure from security forces, members of the group took refuge in the wild Rwenzori mountains along the Uganda-DRC border, where they formed the ADF as a means of resisting the Museveni government in Kampala with the assistance of the Sudanese military, which was seeking a proxy to combat Uganda’s support of the independence struggle of the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLA). The ADF absorbed remnants of an earlier Rwenzori separatist movement and were joined by a number of Idi Amin loyalists who had sought refuge in southern Sudan and were likely encouraged by Sudanese intelligence to join the ADF.

An alliance was also created between the ADF and the National Army for the Liberation of Uganda (NALU), a group drawn from the Nande ethnic group of the Rwenzori Mountains. This alliance may have followed introductions provided by Sudanese intelligence officers (al-Jazeera, December 24, 2013). NALU was a relatively inactive movement at the time that had once been responsible for regional raids and a suicide bombing on a Kampala bus that killed 30 people. The ADF-NALU alliance was very active in the 1990s, attacking Ugandan security forces, bombing buses in Kampala and carrying out a number of massacres in their home territory.

However, Ugandan operations in the DRC in 1999 weakened the group and by 2004, operations by the Uganda Peoples Defense Force (UPDF) had forced the movement out of its western Uganda bases and across the border into the lightly governed Nord-Kivu province of the DRC. The discovery of oil in Bundibugyo, a small district at the foot of the Rwenzori Mountain range along the border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), appeared to revive the movement. The ADF attempted to destroy new oil facilities in western Uganda in 2007, but a powerful response from the UPDF eliminated nine of the group’s commanders and temporarily ended the ADF threat (New Vision [Kampala], June 19, 2007).

FARDC Fire Missiles at ADF-NALU Positions

ADF leader Jamil Mukulu is a convert to Islam from Catholicism and is believed to have been part of Osama bin Laden’s group in the Sudan in the mid-1990s, followed by training in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Military operations are led by Hood Lukwago and commanders Amis Kasadha, Muhammad Kayira and Filipo Bogere Muzamil (Observer [Kampala], January 10, 2013). Mukulu is rumored to spend his time in London, the Eastleigh neighborhood of Nairobi (known as “Little Mogadishu”) and the coastal region of Tanga in Tanzania (, July 20, 2013). Most ADF leaders come from Muslim-dominated regions of central Uganda. Muslims are a minority in Uganda, forming about 15 percent of the total population.

Though the Muslim leadership of the ADF adopts an Islamist stance, it has never released anything in the way of a political program and now relies heavily on non-Muslim recruits from the DRC. The ADF relies on illegal timber-cutting and gold mining in Nord-Kivu for revenues, as well as funds raised in the Muslim communities of east Africa. In the Beni region, ADF fighters had settled into the local community, running car and motorcycle taxis and marrying local women (al-Jazeera, December 24, 2013).

Like other groups active in the northeastern Congo that have experienced difficulty in recruitment from their original core (in this case Ugandan Muslims) through physical isolation or failure to establish a popular following, ADF-NALU enlarged its following through abductions, the use of kadogos (child-soldiers) and financial enticements for local Congolese youth who may now form up to 50% of the movement. Other recruits appear to have been lured from Kampala by promises of employment in western Uganda (New Vision [Kampala], April 11, 2013). ADF-NALU can likely field some 1200 to 1600 fighters, of whom only 800 could be regarded as effectively trained, but their intimate knowledge of the inaccessible Nord-Kivu border region and deep roots in the local non-Muslim Bakonjo community will complicate efforts to eliminate the movement.

The Ugandan Role

Ugandan military adventures in the DRC have proved lucrative in the past; the Ugandan military presence in the Congo from 1998 to 2002 allowed senior ranks to make small fortunes from illegal mining and timber exports, but ultimately resulted in a 2005 International Court of Justice ruling against Uganda that found that state guilty of grave human rights abuses and the plundering of the northeastern Congo’s wealth. While Kinshasha is looking for $10 billion in reparations, Uganda has yet to make any payments (Daily Monitor [Kampala], July 21, 2013; IWPR, July 31, 2007).

Uganda has become a heavily militarized state that requires continuous threats to justify the continued diversion of a large part of the nation’s budget to support a large military base and its various operations.  The UPDF’s lead role in the African Union’s military mission in Somalia has provided Uganda with a well-trained, well-equipped core of troops with significant combat experience. Some Ugandan opposition figures fear the revival of ADF-NALU activities and anecdotal allegations of ADF cooperation with Somalia’s al-Shabaab Islamists will lead to new military activities in the cross-border Rwenzori region (for alleged ADF ties to al-Shabaab, see New Vision [Kampala], July 12, 2013, Observer [Kampala], July 14, 2013). Asuman Basalirwa, leader of the largely Muslim Justice Forum party (popularly known as “Jeema”), maintains that the ADF has no relationship with political Islam and suspects Uganda’s powerful military establishment of exaggerating the Islamist element of the ADF to attract US funding: “Reports of war are commercial projects by security agencies… They are used to justify increased budgetary allocations and supplementary budgets” (Daily Monitor [Kampala], July 21, 2013).


The resumption of military activities by newly armed ADF-NALU fighters last year suggests that the group has found a new sponsor. Uganda’s military has suggested Sudan is still supplying the group, but cannot yet provide evidence to support this claim (al-Jazeera, December 24, 2013). Sudanese-Ugandan relations entered a steep decline several months before the militants resumed operations. However, the Ugandan military has become too strong for groups like ADF-NALU or the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) to operate on Ugandan soil. Under military pressure in Nord-Kivu from combined Congolese/UN forces and facing UPDF troops along the Ugandan border, ADF-NALU has little choice but to disperse into the Ituri Forest and wait out operations. Kinshasha’s challenge in the region is to provide a permanent security regime to establish its sovereignty in the region and prevent the re-entry of militants into areas where they had previously been cleared. FARDC appears to be gaining confidence through its joint operations with the UN Intervention Brigade; the question is whether it will have the trained manpower, equipment and funding to secure this resource-rich region once UN forces have stood down.


1. For earlier assessments of the ADF, see Andrew McGregor, “Oil and Jihad in Central Africa,” Terrorism Monitor, December 20, 2007 and “Ugandan Rebel Movement Reemerges along Oil-bearing Ugandan/Congolese Border,” Terrorism Monitor, July 24, 2007.

2. Video of the incident can be found at For the Mouvement du 23 Mars (M23), see Terrorism Monitor, January 4, 2013; Terrorism Monitor July 26, 2012; a profile of M23 leader General Bosco Ntaganda is available in Militant Leadership Monitor, August 31, 2012.

This article first appeared in the March 20, 2014 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor.

Oil and Jihad in Central Africa: The Rise and Fall of Uganda’s Alliance of Democratic Forces (ADF)

Andrew McGregor

December 20, 2007

In the midst of all the horrors generated in Central Africa by the Rwandan genocide of 1994 and the collapse of Zaire in 1997, a little known group of Islamist radicals has done its own part to contribute to the suffering. Based since 1996 in Bundibugyo, an impoverished and underdeveloped district in western Uganda, the Alliance of Democratic Forces (ADF) has killed thousands in its pursuit of an Islamic state in Uganda. Strangely enough, few of its rank and file are Muslims (or even Ugandans), and its leader is a convert from Catholicism. The movement was believed destroyed by the Ugandan Popular Defense Forces 1999 campaign, but seems to have enjoyed a revival after the discovery of oil in Bundibugyo. Now, however, there is word that the ADF is seeking peace talks with Uganda after a series of setbacks to enable the return of some 200 ADF fighters from the forests of the Congo to Uganda (Monitor [Kampala], December 4).

ADF 1The Allied Democratic Forces

Bundibugyo is a small district at the foot of the Rwenzori Mountain range along the border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). It has a natural connection to the vast Ituri Forest, which has become a home for various regional insurgent groups. This mountainous area is the last region of Uganda to go without electricity and is notorious for the poor quality of its roads. Bundibugyo is currently enduring a bout of Ebola Fever that has killed 35 people (New Vision [Kampala], December 11). The ADF did not begin here, however, but started rather in the urban Muslim areas of Kampala and the towns of central Uganda.

The ADF has its origins in the evangelistic Tabliqi Jamaat movement of Uganda, a local offshoot of the larger Indian-Pakistani Tabliq movement founded in the 1920s. Tabliq means “to deliver (the message of Islam).” Muslims are a minority in mostly Christian Uganda, representing about 15 percent of the population. While the Indian-Pakistani Tabliq movement is usually non-political, the Ugandan Tabliqis claimed political persecution after they opposed the appointment of a new national mufti. Following a period of street-clashes and arrests in 1991, many in the Tabliq movement left for the wilds of the Rwenzori mountains where they were joined by radicalized prisoners released in 1993. The absence of Muslims in the higher ranks of President Yoweri Museveni’s administration also contributed to the growing militancy of the Tabliq movement. According to the Ugandan government, the Tabliqis received funds and encouragement from the Sudanese embassy in Kampala, leading to the severing of diplomatic ties in 1995. [1]

The first major strike by the ADF took place in 1996, when the movement’s fighters attacked Ugandan troops in Kasese District along the border with the Congo. At first most of the fighters had little more than machetes, but arms began to flow to the movement from external sources, most likely the Sudan or the DRC government of Laurent-Desire Kabila. During the 1990s, ADF militants carried out 43 bombings in Kampala and Jinja. Never well liked within Uganda, the ADF leaders found it simpler to recruit new fighters from the DRC by offering promises of money and education. Many children were seized on both sides of the border and incorporated into the ranks.

Once in western Uganda, the ADF formed an alliance with the National Army for the Liberation of Uganda (NALU), a rebel group that had become fairly inactive. NALU was formed in 1988 and split from the Rwenzori Movement in 1991 [2]. NALU tactics typically involved raids on small villages and attacks on civilians, including a 1998 suicide bombing on a Kampala bus that killed 30. Eventually the ADF was also joined by remnants of the Rwenzori separatist movement and a number of Idi Amin loyalists who were living in the south Sudan.

Kampala’s campaign against the ADF was slow to develop but finally bore fruit in 1999. Borders were secured, roads brought under control, UPDF outposts placed on the high ground of the mountains, and self-defense units organized in the villages (IRIN, December 8, 1999). Despite this, the already impoverished Bundibugyo District was still forced to cope with over 100,000 displaced people.

ADF leader Jamil Mukulu was an associate of Osama bin Laden during the latter’s stay in Sudan in the 1990s, before launching his first attack in Uganda in 1996. Mukulu is believed to have received training from al-Qaeda both in Sudan and Afghanistan (Monitor, December 1). The ADF leader remains a shadowy figure, usually heard only on the cassette tapes the ADF distributes. Mukulu urges violence against non-Muslims and Muslims who fail to carry out jihad, including a heavy dose of invective against various international leaders: “Let curses be to Bush, Blair, the president of France—and more curses go to Museveni and all those fighting Islam.” According to Lieutenant-Colonel James Mugira, Uganda’s acting chief of military intelligence, “We think [Mukulu] will become the next bin Laden of Africa” (IWPR, June 6, 2005).

The ADF Attempts to Join the Global Jihad

On December 5, 2001, the ADF was added to the U.S. list of designated terrorist organizations. In the chaos that followed the entry of U.S. troops into Baghdad in 2003, reporters were able to obtain a cache of papers from the bombed-out ruins of Iraq’s intelligence headquarters. Among the documents were a series of letters from the ADF’s “chief of diplomacy,” Bekkah Abdul Nasser, to Fallah Hassan al-Rubdie, the Iraqi chargé d’affaires in Nairobi. These 10-15 page English-language letters (translated into Arabic by the Mukhabarat) seek Iraqi financing to set up an African mujahideen front: “We in the ADF forces are ready to run the African mujahideen headquarters. We have already started and we are on the ground, operational.” Another letter suggested the creation of an “international mujahideen team whose special mission will be to smuggle arms on a global scale to holy warriors fighting against U.S., British, and Israeli influences in Africa, the Middle East, and the Far East” (Christian Science Monitor, April 18, 2003; Daily Telegraph, April 17, 2003). There was no indication from the files that Iraqi funds were ever sent, or that the correspondence was even encouraged.

During a visit to Washington in 2004, Ugandan Defense Minister Amama Mbabazi emphasized that “Uganda’s domestic terrorist groups have been subsidized and trained by al-Qaeda” (Afrol News, September 30, 2004). Uganda has been a beneficiary of the $100 million U.S.-financed East Africa Counterterrorism Initiative (U.S. Department of State, April 1, 2004).

By 2005, Ugandan officials were warning the ADF had regrouped and were receiving funding and training from other extremist groups. According to Captain Joseph Kamusiime, operations chief for the Ugandan anti-terrorism unit, the ADF had supporters in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia, but its chief backer was Sudanese Islamist Hassan al-Turabi, leader of the National Islamic Front. In the early days after its creation in 1996, the ADF was reported to have received training at a camp run by Sudanese intelligence in Juba (Islamism and its Enemies in the Horn of Africa, 2004). By 2005 Ugandan intelligence estimated 650-1,000 ADF fighters to be in the Congolese bush, but other sources claimed many of these were only camp-followers. Kamusiime described the ADF as part of a larger Islamist project: “The ADF… is motivated by Islamic fundamentalists—more in line with al-Qaeda ideology like other African terrorist organizations with global reach, such as the Armed Islamic Group of Algeria, Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, and Somalia’s Al-Ittihad al-Islamiya” (IWPR, June 6, 2005).

A Struggle Going Nowhere?

The 2005 signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement between the Khartoum government and the rebel Sudanese Peoples’ Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) in southern Sudan ended the usefulness of the ADF and Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) to Khartoum as counter-measures against Ugandan support for the SPLM/A. The last major attack by the ADF occurred in March, when 60 rebels crossed from the Congo into Bundibugyo to strike the new oil facilities. At least 45 guerrillas, including senior commander Bosco Isiko, were killed in a battle with the UPDF along the Sempaya River in the Semliki game reserve on March 27 (Radio Uganda, April 3; Monitor, November 20). In the three months between April and June of this year, nine ADF commanders were killed by the UPDF, effectively destroying the group’s command structure (New Vision, June 19).

ADF 2ADF Leader Jamil Mukulu during Extradition Hearing in Tanzania, 2015

Seven captured ADF rebels were granted amnesty in November after undergoing “psycho-social counseling” by the Ugandan Red Cross and officers of the UPDF (Monitor, November 21). Four Ugandans who aided the organization from the Ugandan side of the border with the Congo were not so lucky—they have been charged with treason (New Vision, October 12).

Ugandan security services claim to have interrupted a plot to bomb last month’s Commonwealth summit in Kampala. The plan, allegedly devised by ADF leader Jamil Mukulu, involved the use of state television vans to deliver bombs through security lines (The Monitor, December 1). Intended targets included the queen and about 45 other international leaders in attendance. Extensive searches of the vans by the Presidential Guards Brigade turned up nothing, but the security services claimed a success.


MONUC (Mission de l’ONU en RD Congo) has confirmed that the ADF has approached the UN mission to facilitate peace talks with Kampala. The initiative seems to have been spurred by a rift between Jamil Mukulu and his deputy Abdallah Kabanda (Monitor, December 4). MONUC is already demobilizing and resettling ADF rebels in the eastern Congo before a final operation to flush out remaining rebels in the region (New Vision, December 2). In a new complication for the Ugandans, Congolese dissidents are now crossing into Uganda to take refuge there from DRC/MONUC sweeps.

There is no question that some of the Ugandan estimates of ADF strength were exaggerated and the description of Jamil Mukulu by Ugandan intelligence as “the next bin Laden” seems calculated to draw U.S. military and financial assistance. Nevertheless, the ADF has been an integral part of a wave of violence that has denied security and development to millions of Africans in the Congolese-Ugandan-Rwandan border region. The collapse of this would-be international jihadi movement would be a welcome development in returning peace and security to this beleaguered part of Africa.


  1. Alex de Waal, ed.: Islamism and its Enemies in the Horn of Africa, Indiana University Press, 2004.
  2. The Bakonjo-Baamba people of Rwenzori made an abortive attempt at independence for the Rwenzori region in 1962. While the attempt failed, a small separatist movement lived on in the bush.

This article first appeared in the December 20, 2007 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor.