Democratic Republic of the Congo
Overview: ISIS’s branch in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), ISIS-DRC, also known as ADF and MTM, has claimed responsibility for more than 80 incidents — 52 of them in 2020.
ISIS-DRC has operated in Beni, North Kivu province, for years. While the majority of its members are Congolese with Ugandan-origin leadership, the group recruits from around the Central Africa and East Africa regions. According to the United Nations, more than 100 armed groups and local militias operate in eastern DRC. President Felix Tshisekedi has publicly described the ADF — known for its asymmetric-style attacks and large-scale, systemic violence against civilians — as “terrorists” and noted they are a threat not only to the DRC but also to the broader region.
The U.S. government, in the context of its “Privileged Partnership for Peace and Prosperity” bilateral framework for engagement with the DRC, continues to work closely with the DRC government to address potential terrorist threats. Building on previous success offering training and exchanges for the FARDC on civil-military operations (CMO), strategic planning and messaging, asymmetric warfare, and human rights and the law of armed conflict in CT operations, the United States signed an MOU with the DRC government in October to launch new cooperation in CMO, strategic communications, engineering, and English-language training.
Despite promising signs of regional engagement during the Tshisekedi administration, antagonistic relations among DRC’s eastern neighbors and their reported armed interference in eastern DRC are a perennial source of conflict and instability. President Tshisekedi has raised the need for regional cooperation with these partners to combat armed groups and bring stability to the eastern DRC.
2020 Terrorist Incidents: ISIS-DRC attacked Congolese civilians, the FARDC, and UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) peacekeepers in North Kivu and southern parts of Ituri provinces.
According to UNJHRO, the deaths of at least 849 men, women, and children — among them civilians, the FARDC, and UN peacekeepers — were attributed to ADF in North Kivu and Ituri provinces during 2020. In contrast, in 2019, there were 119 incidents and 377 deaths attributed to the ADF in North Kivu alone, according to the Kivu Security Tracker.
- ISIS has claimed responsibility for more than 100 incidents in the DRC since 2019, and claims have increased in frequency since October. ISIS claims account for about one third of ADF-attributed attacks on the ground, and nearly half of ISIS claims convincingly correspond to a confirmed attack.
- 2020 saw an increase in mass-killings and abductions of civilians, with more than a dozen reports of 10 to 30 civilians killed in a single incident, including murders and beheadings. ADF-attributed attacks on civilians increased significantly at the beginning of 2020 after the FARDC conducted large-scale CT operations that began in 2019. The operations succeeded in some respect, dislodging the group from all their permanent bases.
- As of late 2020, ISIS-DRC is believed to be operating in at least three decentralized and mobile groups, over a broader operating area. There has been no significant change in perceived tactics, or weapons used since the ADF’s affiliation with ISIS. However, the group is now constantly on the move following Congolese military counter-ADF operations over the course of 2020, making them less predictable and more destructive — according to information gathered during MONUSCO protection of civilian patrols.
- Throughout the latter half of 2020, suspected ISIS-DRC elements continued to use rudimentary IEDs against FARDC targets.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: The DRC has no comprehensive CT legislation. The DRC’s National Assembly passed a draft CT bill in 2018 that stalled in the Senate and has yet to be adopted. National police participated in Global Counterterrorism Forum border management training in December and in an INTERPOL CT event in March.
The DRC shares some 6,835 miles of land and lake borders with nine countries but lacks the capacity to effectively patrol them. The border authority, the Directorate General of Migration, uses the International Organization for Migration’s Migration Information and Data Analysis System (MIDAS) at only a fraction of the DRC’s more than 400 official border crossings.
Countering the Financing of Terrorism: The government made efforts to strengthen its Anti-Money Laundering/Countering Terrorist Financing (AML/CFT) framework, although it still lacks resources and capacity. Notably, President Tshisekedi appointed a new executive secretary of the DRC’s Financial Intelligence Unit, who revitalized engagement with international partners such as the United Nations and the U.S. Department of Treasury. The DRC is a member of GABAC. During 2020, GABAC visited the DRC in support of the mutual evaluation review. There continue to be deficiencies in freezing accounts and taking other action in response to U.S. sanctions and banking, and government officials continue to request additional support to strengthen oversight mechanisms.
Countering Violent Extremism: There were no significant changes in 2020.
International and Regional Cooperation: In October, Tshisekedi convened a virtual mini-summit with the heads of state of Angola, Rwanda, and Uganda, who all pledged greater cooperation on regional security. The DRC also held a bilateral ministerial in October with Burundi to improve border security. The DRC is a member of the Southern African Development Community and the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region and regularly engages to promote regional cooperation. In 2021, President Tshisekedi is to assume the chairmanship of the African Union (AU) and to underscore peace and security as one of his primary emphases.