Lack of top cover could be behind DR Congo helicopter attack

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In the aftermath of Friday’s small arms attack on a SA Air Force (SAAF) Oryx helicopter attached to the United Nations (UN) peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the safety and capability of deployed South African military personnel and equipment has been questioned.

The SA National Defence Union (Sandu), via National Secretary Pikkie Greeff, said in a statement it is deeply concerned about the recent incident and the “limited funds challenges” facing the entire SA National Defence Force (SANDF) must not be allowed to affect “safety and security” of South African military personnel. The military trade union wants “our troops” well prepared and protected with adequate equipment, supplies and have “the necessary combat support”.

Democratic Alliance shadow defence and military veterans minister Kobus Marais said Friday’s small arms fire fusillade at the medium transport helicopter brought home – again – the “diminished capability” of the service commanded by Lieutenant General Wiseman Mbambo.

“This event might have been averted had the ANC (African National Congress) not played a role in diminishing the capabilities of the SAAF,” he said, pointing “specifically to the lack of at least two Rooivalk combat support helicopters” for – among others – supporting medevac flights. This he blames on Thandi Modise’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) and SANDF Commander-in-Chief, President Cyril Ramaphosa.

African Defence Review (ADR) Director Darren Olivier raised the lack of top cover for helicopter sorties, be they medevac or personnel and equipment delivery, a year ago. He is on record as saying budget cuts and withdrawals leave MONUSCO helicopters without Mi-24 or Rooivalk escorts.

Friday’s attack has not yet been claimed by any of the armed groups active in DRC with M23 the leading suspect.

The Oryx (tail number 1247) flown by a 22 Squadron aircrew was reportedly “badly damaged” with multiple rounds of unknown calibre ammunition hitting the cockpit, cabin and rotor blades with hydraulic system damage. The three-man aircrew, named in a Sunday report as majors Jannie Augustyn, Harvey Strauss and Sergeant Divan Adams, flew the rotorcraft to safe landing at a MONUSCO level three hospital. Pilot in command (PIC) Augustyn and a military medic were the only casualties in the Rwindi medevac sortie.