Rise to Peace blog

ISIS in the Congo: A Counter-Terrorism Perspective

With much attention spotlighting ISIS-K’s increased capabilities, little attention has been brought to their counterparts within Central Africa. Much like their counterparts in Central Asia, the Islamic State Central Africa Province (ISCAP) has increased its activities within Central Africa this year.

As ISCAP has carried out attacks, they have united the governments of Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in combating them, despite their past differences. While ISIS has lost territory in the Middle East, it is evident that its affiliates remain salient threats to the regions they operate in, as well as international security as a whole.

Origins of ISCAP

The formation of the Islamic State in Central Africa traces back to ISIS’s ambitions to expand into Africa in late 2018. The first attacks in the region occurred one year later within the DRC. That same year, the group expanded operations into Mozambique, which cemented their threat to Central African security.

ISCAP has traditionally been composed of the Congo-based Allied Defence Forces (ADF) and fighters within Mozambique. In 2020, the Mozambique branch had conquered cities within Mozambique, which alarmed states within the region. This year, the branch within Mozambique has been the target of a multilateral offensive from a coalition of states, which has weakened their operational capacity compared to their previous success in 2020.

Growing Operational Capability

The ADF did not begin life as an exclusively Islamic militant organization, but rather as a rebel group seeking to oust the current Ugandan government. As the group went into remote regions of Uganda it began to change into the militant group it is today, recruiting disaffected Muslim youth.

The branch within the DRC has seen its capacity grow in 2021, as they have been attributed to an uptick of attacks within the country. They have also become increasingly brutal, demonstrated through released videos of beheadings as part of their propaganda. This is in light of this branch conducting over 20 attacks this year alone. Moreover, their attacks within Uganda have become indicative of an augmentation in their capabilities to harm the people of Central Africa. The most brazen of such attacks occurred on November 16th in which they bombed the capital of Uganda.

Ghosts of the Past

While both governments are interested in the defeat of ISCAP, relations between the DRC and Uganda have been fraught with tensions. These strained relations stem from the actions of the Ugandans during the Congo Wars, which ended in 2003. The Ugandans were found to violate the DRC’s sovereignty and were forced to pay reparations by the Hague.

As these wounds are still fresh in the minds of many within the DRC, skepticism of another Ugandan intervention underlies their thoughts. Despite these reservations, the government of the DRC has invited Ugandan troops into the country to aid in the fight against the insurgents.

A Roadmap for Peace

The fight against Islamic militants within Africa is not a new endeavor. However, it is important to note the evolution of such groups within Africa and their capabilities. More than 20 years ago, the United States’ embassy in Kenya was attacked by suicide bombers. Since that time, a small group, which at one point pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda, captured large swathes of sovereign territory in the Levant, and created a network of global affiliates that carried out their own attacks. No longer are such groups content with attacking government symbols, such as an embassy, but rather they seek the prestige of carving out states from the territory of sovereign nations.

As this is Africa’s new reality, there are policy directives that should be considered to effectively address the current situation of the Congo. To effectively rout this group, it is imperative that a formalized dissemination of intelligence exist between states in the region. While the DRC and Uganda are engaged in combating the DRC-based branch, the Mozambique-based branch still can provide refuge to any escaping combatants to regain strength. Without such a coordinated effort, it is unlikely that ISCAP’s threat to Central African security will subside.

Secondly, a concrete timeline should exist detailing when Ugandan troops will be present and what they must abide by while in the DRC. Any such violation would be met with recourse similar to the previous deal given by the Hague.

The DRC has deemed that the Ugandans would be beneficial to combat ISCAP; however, any such breakdown of relations between the two would detrimentally impact security. Finally, the states of Central Africa must address the underlying conditions which have driven their Muslim youth to join ISIS affiliates.


Christopher Ynclan Jr., Counter-Terrorism Research Fellow

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