Discarded military fatigues, boots, trash and a charred corpse in a smouldering hut: the remains of a Ugandan rebel base in the wake of what the Congolese army calls an important victory.
Democratic Republic of Congo’s army launched its latest offensive last month against the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), an Islamist insurgency originally based in Uganda that has moved across the border into eastern Congo.
Congolese authorities accuse the ADF of attacks around Beni between 2014 and 2016 that killed more than 800 people many hacked to death with machetes during the night. The rebels are also blamed for an attack on a United Nations base in December that killed 15 peacekeepers and five Congolese soldiers.
“We’re planning how to pursue them until the end,” said Colonel Willy Mboneza Babyondo, head of the unit that destroyed the base, as Congolese soldiers hauled wounded comrades out of the dense forest on improvised stretchers
“We cannot allow a foreign group to continue to kill, to massacre, our people,” he said.
The victory amid the lush, rugged mountains comes as Congo risks sliding back into the cycle of war that killed millions, most from hunger and disease, at the turn of the century.
The ADF is one of many groups across the vast nation responsible for a deadly spike in attacks.
More than four million people have been displaced by violence aggravated by President Joseph Kabila’s refusal to step down at the end of his mandate in 2016.
More than 532,000 people fled in two territories along the border with Uganda in 2016 and 2017. The United Nations warns the current offensive against ADF is likely to displace nearly 370,000 more.
Congolese officers say the operations are necessary and point to one particular disfigured body discovered in remnants of the ADF base as evidence of progress. They say the man was Muhammad Kayira, an ADF senior operations commander.
“I cannot rejoice because this fighter has fallen. I simply say it is an important step,” said General Marcel Mbangu, one of the Congolese army’s top commanders in the east. “In the end, the final result we’re seeking is nothing more than peace and security.”