KINSHASA (CONGO) – Special forces from the United States will soon deploy to Democratic Republic of Congo’s restive east to gauge the potential for a local anti-terrorism unit to combat Islamist violence, President Felix Tshisekedi said on Sunday.
The Special Operations Forces arrived in Congo’s capital Kinshasa on Friday to “conduct an assessment of a future Congolese counter-terrorism team,” U.S. ambassador Mike Hammer said.
Tshisekedi said in a statement on Sunday that the troops would “provide support to the (army) in the fight against terrorism and to the guardians of the Virunga and Garamba national parks, which have become a sanctuary for terrorist forces.”
He said the troops would be present for several weeks in eastern Congo, where martial law was established in May to try to end decades of bloodshed.
Data collected by the Kivu Security Tracker, which maps unrest in the region, attributes much of the recent violence to the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), an Islamist-inspired insurgency which U.S. officials have linked to Islamic State.
The ADF, initially from Uganda, has been blamed for dozens of massacres in the last three years, mostly in remote villages with hatchets and firearms.
Islamic State has claimed responsibility for some of the killings, but United Nations experts have doubted the militant group’s influence over ADF operations.
Some attacks blamed on the ADF could have been committed by other militias, or by factions of Congo’s own army, UN and independent experts have said.
The UN has found that the ADF is getting better at making bombs, but that they are used for “tactical, offensive, defensive and harassment purposes rather than as a terrorist tool”.