Beni Democratic Republic of Congo – We met Kambale Kombi in a government hospital in the province of North Kivu in the east of the DRC. He had a bandage in one of his eyes and was admitted in February after a night of horror in his village of Vuyambo.
"It was around 9 p.m. and I was getting ready to sleep when I heard gunshots and people screaming, so I ran away. The man who shot me was just outside the door. I didn't see anything else."
The doctors had to remove the bullet lodged in his head plus his left eye.
In the women's room, Shuka Vesina is breastfeeding her granddaughter Wivine, eight months. The baby is recovering from a bullet hole in the thigh.
His town of Kamango was attacked last December. When armed men began firing, some of the relatives met Vesina's house. Seven were killed, including Wivine's mother, who was shot four times while carrying the baby in the back.
"These men who came were dressed in what appeared to be Congolese military uniforms and boots. They wore machetes, which used to cut people to pieces. Anyone who ran was shot. Some spoke in a Ugandan dialect," Visine said.
When we visited the hospital, dozens of victims were recovering from different injuries.
All blamed the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a group that began in the 1990s in western Uganda with the goal of creating an Islamic state. The rebels were expelled from the country by Ugandan forces and moved to the forest in neighboring DRC, where they were initially tolerated by the community and the government.
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About six years ago, ADF began attacking villages, killing people who used machetes and guns. They have also kidnapped hundreds over the years. United Nations officials say up to 500 civilians have been kidnapped in the past year and a half.
First line of the jungle
ADF is a dynamic but mysterious group. Your current goals are not clear. It does not issue public statements or take responsibility for attacks. Government and UN sources estimate membership between 1,500 and 2,000 with recruitment agents in other countries in the region.
The source of funding is also unclear, but combatants often assault Congolese military bases (FARDC) to obtain weapons and cultivate in the forest.
Twenty-two thousand government soldiers under the command of five generals began an operation against the ADF in October 2019. Army commanders who took us to the front line of the jungle said they expelled the rebels from their fortress and killed dozens, including some of its leaders. and arrested many.
But the situation in some parts of the region has become even more dangerous. ADF fighters have killed nearly 1,000 people since the offensive began.
Human rights activists such as Kizito Bin Hangi have accused security forces of being disorganized and having a flawed strategy.
"Some of the attacks occur very close to military bases and positions. The combatants seem to have time to attack, steal and return to the forest where these thousands of government troops are," Hangi said.
We ask that question to Chaligonza Nduru, the general in charge of the Congolese troops.
"In war, unfortunately there are losses and deaths. We are defeating the enemy. They no longer have the ability to fight against the military, so they sneak into villages like cowards and kill defenseless villagers to lose confidence in our ability to protect them. "We are dealing with terrorists and we will eliminate them as we have other rebel groups in the DRC," Nduru said.
& # 39; Neutralize and disarm & # 39;
It was not the government's first offensive against the ADF, but Nduru told Al Jazeera that things were different this time.
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"The strategy now is not only to take out the ADFs, but also to maintain the areas we have taken. We now have bases in the forest. We are building roads from where our troops can get their supplies. We are also opening areas that they had,quot; was closed by ADF so that villagers can return to their homes. This time things will be different. Those foreign terrorists will be expelled forever, "he said.
The DRC has one of the largest UN peacekeeping missions in the world and a force intervention brigade established in 2013 and authorized by the UN to carry out specific offensive operations to "neutralize and disarm,quot; groups considered a threat to state authority and civil security. .
However, the presence of force is not enough to assure many. In November 2019, hundreds of residents took to the streets accusing the UN mission (MONUSCO) of not doing enough to protect them. They burned a military base and paralyzed operations for almost two weeks.
The head of the mission office in Beni, Omar Aboud, told Al Jazeera that the UN is not in the front line fighting the ADF together with the FARDC, but is providing logistical and tactical support to the Congolese forces and has increased patrols in villages.
The security situation in Beni is complex and has left many Congolese feeling abandoned and defenseless.
Those we talked to said that even the thousands of security forces in the region are not enough to make them feel safe.