The Rooivalk combat support helicopter looks set to remain in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), but instead of being attached to the United Nations’ MONUSCO mission, it will apparently be operated only in support of South African troops.
Brigadier General Patrick Dube, named commander of the MONUSCO Force Intervention Brigade (FIB) in May, currently has more than two thousand eight hundred troops under his command as he executes an offensive mandate to keep civilians safe from rebel and other anti-government groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The entire MONUSCO mission, along with other UN peacekeeping and peace support missions worldwide is facing cuts in both personnel and materiel. This is a result of the US intention to cut its funding to the world body and it appears the South African Rooivalk combat support helicopter could be one of the early removals from theatre.
While there is no word as yet from the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations on the Rooivalk coming home, the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) this week said: “All Rooivalk helicopters deployed in the DRC are under the UN”. This is at variance with information given to defenceWeb stating the three combat support helicopters now in DRC are working under a “letter of assist”. This publication is told this means the rotary-winged aircraft will only be deployed in support of operations and taskings executed by South African ground forces. The costs will be borne by South Africa but are in line with what Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula said in May.
Responding to a Parliamentary question posed by Democratic Alliance shadow defence minister Kobus Marais, she said: “Should the Rooivalk be withdrawn, FIB morale and confidence will be negatively impacted on”.
SANDF Joint Operations Chief, Lieutenant General Barney Hlatshwayo was at UN headquarters in New York earlier in the year as part of a Southern African Development Community (SADC) delegation. Among others, the delegation discussed the continued utilisation of the Rooivalk in the DRC, as well as possible withdrawal of troops and the effect of this on FIB operations.
Mapisa-Nqakula also told Marais: “The Rooivalk helicopters are a resource dedicated for employment by the FIB. Should the helicopters be withdrawn, the ability to employ combat air support will no longer be directly available to South African forces. The Rooivalk is armoured and can withstand light weapons fire and is utilised to gather intelligence by making use of its sensors. The helicopter is able to interdict targets with a high rate of fire in dense jungle terrain ground forces are unable to reach.
“The Rooivalk is a force multiplier to the FIB and the risks associated (with its removal) are: reduced intelligence gathering capability, reduced firepower and the absence of an air interdiction capability will seriously reduce the combat potential of South African Forces to stabilise conflict affected areas in the DRC.”
The FIB was established in 2013 after the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 2098 and is under the direct command of the MONUSCO Force commander Lieutenant General Elias Rodrigues Martins Filho of Brazil. This position was previously held by now retired South African lieutenant general Derrick Mgwebi.
The current FIB strength of 2 826 is made up of 1 126 Tanzanians and 850 troops each from Malawi and South Africa. The FIB is headquartered in Beni.