Allied Democratic Forces (ADF)

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Allied Democratic Forces (ADF)

LEADER: Jamil Mukulu

YEAR ESTABLISHED OR BECAME ACTIVE: 1989 (claimed by group); reportedly started operations in 1996

ESTIMATED SIZE: A few hundred members

USUAL AREA OF OPERATION: Western Uganda, eastern Congo (DRC)


The Allied Democratic Forces is a rebel organization operating against the Ugandan government that reportedly emerged in late 1996. Most of the members of the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) are former members of the now-defunct National Army for the Liberation of Uganda (NALU), Islamic fundamentalists from the Salaf Tabliq group, fighters from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and Hutu militants from Rwanda.

The ADF gained great notoriety between 1996 and 1999 and was considered by most terrorism experts as one of the best-organized terrorist forces that had ever operated in Uganda. The group is also known as the Alliance of Democratic Forces, and Uganda Allied Democratic Forces.

On December 5, 2001, then-U.S. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell designated 39 groups, including the Allied Democratic Forces, as Terrorist Exclusion List (TEL) organizations under section 212 of the Immigration and Nationality Act.


The Allied Democratic Forces claims to have started its operations in 1996 as a small group with its base on the slopes of Mt. Ruwenzori located on the border between Congo and Uganda; it expanded its operations over the years. The major area of operation for the ADF was reportedly western Uganda and eastern Congo. The outfit is an extension of the National Army for the Liberation of Uganda (NALU).

Founded in 1988, the NALU reportedly consisted of ex-commanders of the Idi Amin regime in Uganda. NALU was formed to express opposition against the Ugandan government led by President Yoweri Museveni since 1986. Reports indicate that NALU opposed the presence of foreign nationals in Uganda as well as the setting up of refugee camps for Rwandans in Uganda. NALU's active period lasted from 1988–1998. Researchers point out that after this period most of the NALU members were associated with the ADF. During its operational period, NALU was allegedly involved in a series of terrorist attacks against civilians. Ugandan authorities indicate that the ADF was eventually formed as a coalition of a group of terrorists with similar ideology—to oppose the Ugandan government led by President Museveni, and to establish an Islamic state of Uganda.

Apart from the NALU, the ADF, as thought by monitor groups and analysts, also has roots in the Islamic Tabliq Youth Movement. This organization also aimed to establish Islamic rule in Uganda, and gained prominence in the early 1980s. The organization allegedly split in 1989, and Jamil Mukulu, a prominent Islamic leader of this movement, started his own organization—the ADF. Additionally, the group also included ex-commanders of the Idi Amin army. One of Idi Amin's sons, Taban Amin, is believed to have served as chief-of-staff of the ADF in 1998.

During its initial period of operation, ADF reportedly launched several attacks from its bases located in DRC. News reports suggest that most of the terrorist activities conducted by the ADF were against local civilian populations. Members of the ADF, drove them from their homes and farms and robbed them. Analysts assert that unlike other terrorist outfits, the ADF did not create an atmosphere of terror immediately after its conception in 1996. In fact, as reported, the organization was involved only in occasional strikes against the government, which did not cause much concern to the authorities. However, in 1997 the ADF was allegedly involved in a surprise attack on Ugandan Army personnel at Mpondwe, near the Ugandan-Congo border. This was followed by a series of attacks on civilians and military staff that were blamed on the ADF by the Ugandan authorities.



Various published reports state that the ADF had several prominent leaders. That said, most of these reports assert that Jamil Mukulu, a former Catholic, was a key figure in the formation of ADF, and also the self-proclaimed leader of the outfit. Reports further suggest that Abdullah Yusuf Kabanda, in the 1990s, acted as the chairman of the organization. The position of army commander is held by Henry Birungi.

Very little information is available about Jamil Mukulu, except that he is a former Catholic turned Islamic extremist belonging to the Tabliq sect. There are reports that lead to the conclusion that he belonged to the Tabliq Youth Movement and was imprisoned for his radical activities in 1989.

In early 2005, intelligence reports suggested that Jamil Mukulu distributed taped footage of Islamic teachings through which he encouraged Muslims all over the world to join their hands together to fight against the Ugandan government. The Ugandan government has made several unsuccessful attempts to obtain an international warrant for Mukulu.

According to Uganda Peoples Defense Force (UPDF), in 1997, 600 ADF revolutionaries occupied the town of Kasese, Uganda, which was later rescued by UPDF personnel. The Ugandan government blamed ADF for several bombings that took place in the Ugandan capital city of Kampala in 1998. In the same year, the ADF allegedly carried out its deadliest terror attack thus far—setting ablaze a college dormitory and murdering close to 80 students, and abducting 80 more. This was followed by the abduction of more than 100 school children, along with several fatal attacks on civilians. The NALU, closely affiliated with the ADF, claimed responsibility of bombing three buses in August 1998 that resulted in the death of 30 people.

In 1999, the Ugandan armed forces known as Uganda Peoples Defense Force (UPDF) successfully destroyed several bases of the AFD and managed to restrain their operational supply. The ADF reportedly fought back fiercely against this armed assault, with battles lasting until the government forces finally prevailed in 2001, capturing the ADF s headquarters.

Subsequently, later in the same year, the Ugandan government overthrew the ADF headquarters located on the border of DRC and Uganda. The war in the DRC was also dying down in intensity, making it more difficult for the ADF to strike from the border. ADF activity subsequent to 2001 has been light, and they are believed to have been reduced to a small faction operating in some areas of DRC.

As of 2004 Western intelligence agencies and monitor groups asserted that the ADF is inoperative. In 2004, the United States removed ADF from its list of designated terrorist organizations, claiming that the organization is inoperative. However, Ugandan officials claimed in 2005 that the self-proclaimed ADF leader, Jamil Mukulu, distributed tapes in which he declared war on non-Muslims and Muslims who did not participate in the Jihad (holy war) against the Ugandan government. Mukulu also reportedly expressed displeasure over the ADF members who surrendered to the army.

As of 2005, Ugandan officials estimate that thousands of ADF members are active in the eastern region of Congo. The officials also claim that the group has amassed significant funds to recruit new members. On the other hand, counterarguments put forward by the United Nations state that the active militants in Uganda do not necessarily belong to the ADF. These may be merely other groups claiming to be ADF.


The ADF has Islamic extremist ideology. It denounces other religions, regarding them as anti-Islam. Experts claim that the ADF ideology is similar to the doctrine followed by other Islamic fundamentalists, including Al-Qaeda.


Operating out of a base in Congo, the ADF makes its first reported attack on a Ugandan target in November 1996.
The deadliest attack attributed to the ADF occurs when ADF militants set a locked dormitory of Kichwamba Technical College in Kabarole district of Uganda on fire, killing 80 students. An additional 80 students are abducted.
Ugandan government officials indicate that the ADF was involved in a series of terrorist attacks on Ugandan targets leading to the murder of at least 350 civilians and the abduction of more than 200 children.
Chief-of-staff of the Ugandan Army, James Kazini, states that the army has captured ADF Commander Abdallah Yusef Kabanda's headquarters at Kanombyo, on the Ugandan-DRC border.
After years of virtual inactivity, Ugandan authorities indicate that there is evidence that the ADF is resurfacing.

Most of the prominent members of the ADF purportedly have strong Islamist ties. The ADF initially claimed that Muslims were sidelined in Uganda and that it was their duty to take the matters in their own hands. However, experts argue that the ADF was not clear on its Islamic ideology, and it attacked only with the purpose of terrorizing civilians. Military personnel, in the past, have been often quoted saying that the ADF is a "rebel without a cause." Ugandan authorities also believe that the organization probably carried out terror acts for revenge on civilians who refused to aid the ADF.

Military sources have been quoted saying that there were two main reasons for the ADF for choosing western Uganda as their operation sector. The first reason is that the lush Ruwenzori mountain ranges were favorable for their clandestine operations. Secondly, the proximity to Congo would make it easy for them to take advantage of the preexisting clashes among the minorities of that region. The ADF also allegedly forced the natives of that region to guide them through the mountains. As mentioned earlier, the organization is thought to have taken a majority of its members from the mostly inoperative National Army for the Liberation of Uganda (NALU), and moved its bases to Congo. Reportedly, large numbers of recruits were also Congo nationals who were promised money and education in return for their support.

Ugandan intelligence reports mention that the ADF used pamphlets and mobile radio to spread their messages to the general population to rebel against the government. Additionally, the reports also state that ADF used guerrilla warfare tactics such as hit-and-run operations. That said, most analysts assert that the ADF's preferred method of terrorizing was the use of terrorist bombs placed in public buses and taxis or in busy shopping areas in Ugandan towns and cities, including the capital city of Kampala.

It is believed that ADF members generally operated in small groups rather than in large numbers. In 1997 and 1998, it was thought by Ugandan intelligence that the ADF strengthened their activities in western and southwestern Uganda by attacking civilian targets, including trading centers, private homes, and businesses. ADF was the primary suspect behind several murders and abductions that took place during that period. The ADF also allegedly planted land mines at multiple locations in cities as well as rural areas, military camps, and government authority bases.

More Aid Workers Leave Western Uganda

More international aid agencies have withdrawn from western Uganda's Bundibugyo district because of increased attacks by rebels of the Allied Democratic Forces ADF.

A spokesman in Uganda for the United Nations food agency Michael Jones said it was waiting to see how the situation developed.

The agency the World Food Programme was in the process of delivering two-hundred tonnes of food for distribution when it halted operations.

The move came after rebels entered Bundibugyo town on Monday night and began shooting, killing at least two civilians and wounding an unknown number of others. The French agency, Medecins sans Frontieres, has also pulled out of the area; another agency, Actionaid, withdrew last month because of the deteriorating security situation. The ADF rebels have been active in western Uganda for about two-and-half years; at least eighty people have died in ADF raids in the past three months.

Source: BBC News, 1999

Ugandan government officials and independent monitor groups believe that, the ADF, while operational, received financial assistance from various Islamic extremist organizations based in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Afghanistan—especially from a Sudan-based militant organization known as the National Islamic Front. This organization, operational as of 2005, aims to establish a supreme Islamic rule in Sudan as well as its neighbors, including Uganda. Assistance in the form of supplies, training, and money was also allegedly provided by the Sudanese government, as well as by groups belonging to the Rwandan Hutu tribe.


A published statement signed in 1998, allegedly by a prominent ADF member, Frank Kithasamba, emphasized that the ADF is determined to "crack down" on all those individuals who were responsible for the death of ADF members. The statement also asked locals "to keep their eyes open" for authorities, especially from the government, who have selfish motives.

In December 1999, ADF spokesperson Rogers Kabanda (a.k.a Ali Bwambale Mulima) told the Independent Monitor that the attacks on the Ugandan government and civilians proved "the power of ADF" and also demonstrated "its intentions to fight against the government forces."

In October 2001, in a statement delivered to the United Nations, Fred Beyendeza, the Ugandan ambassador to the UN said, "Uganda and its people had been suffering from terrorist activities since more than 15 years, majority of which were carried out by the fundamentalist Lord's Resistance Army (LRA)—in the northern parts of Uganda, and the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) in south-western Uganda." Mr. Beyendeza further implicated Sudan as an ally of both the LRA and ADF.

In a report published in 2005, James Mugira, Uganda's Acting Chief of Military Intelligence, is quoted saying, "the long absence of a central government in the DRC had given the ADF time to regroup there." He also claims that the ADF had received funding, operational training, and weapons from "foreign Islamic fundamentalist groups in Muslim countries." Mugira stated that Jamil Mukulu, the leader of ADF, is considered by his government to be as dangerous as Osama bin Laden.


The Allied Democratic Forces had a fundamentalist Islamic ideology. However, analysts emphasize that the methodologies employed by ADF members did not attest to their Islamic claim. Terrorism experts have often mentioned that the ADF terror activities, including murders and kidnapping, were undertaken only to spread fear. In 2001, after an attack on the ADF headquarters by the Ugandan army, the group reportedly started disintegrating. Subsequently, authorities were quoted saying that the ADF was no longer active.

However, in 2005 there were reported claims by the Ugandan authorities that the ADF had resurfaced. The validity of these reports, though, has been questioned by most of western intelligence, the United Nations, monitor groups, as well as antiterrorism experts.



Nantulya, Paul. "Exclusion, Identity and Armed Conflict: A Historical Survey of the Politics of Confrontation in Uganda with Specific Reference to the Independence Era."

Web sites

African Terrorism Bulletin. "Renewed Threat from Defeated Ugandan Rebel Group?" 〈〉 (accessed September 22, 2005). "Allied Democratic Forces: National Army for the Liberation of Uganda (NALU)." 〈〉 (accessed September 22, 2005).

Institute for Security Studies. "Uganda." 〈〉 (accessed September 22, 2005).

Institute for War and Peace Reporting. "New Danger from Ugandan Rebel Group?" 〈〉 (accessed September 22, 2005).

MIPT Terrorism Knowledge Base. "National Army for the Liberation of Uganda (NALU)." 〈〉 (accessed September 22, 2005).


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Allied Democratic Forces (ADF)