“No turning back” for SADC DRC mission – Heitman

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Respected South African defence analyst Helmoed Heitman maintains that early setbacks aside for the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Mission in Democratic Republic of Congo (SAMIDRC), there’s no turning back because “if we retreat we will look stupid and we will have showed how toothless we have become”.

His comments formed part of a report in Johannesburg-based daily, The Citizen, in the wake of four more deaths in the mission now approaching its fourth month of deployment in the eastern DRC.

Earlier this week three Tanzanian soldiers died following a mortar attack with another three injured. The SADC further reported the death of a South African soldier with “challenges experienced while receiving health treatment”.

The first SAMIDRC casualties of the deployment came in March, again from a mortar attack, which killed two South African soldiers and wounded three.

Heitman is reported as saying the task set for SAMIDRC is “too great for any one African country to handle”.

“The area is too large and the number of armed groups too many, with diverse aims. Strategically and economically, the mission would be justified if the force was adequate.”

The mission, according to him, has no chance of a lasting effect. “The force is too small – lacking air support in a region of difficult terrain, as well as few and poor roads.

“A total of 5 000 troops are not going to achieve what 15 000 could not. I would fully support a deployment in the DRC if we and the SADC were serious about it – and if South Africa still had the military capability to do the job properly.

“But we cannot even patrol our borders and waters or police our air space. SANDF soldiers who are part of SADC mission could not muster an effective force for Cabo Delgado in Mozambique – something showing more direct problems and risks.”

A withdrawal from Cabo Delgado and neglecting South African border security “to deploy into the DRC with an entirely inadequate force is reckless,” the man who was part of Roelf Meyer’s Defence Review 2012 team said.

“Without adequate air power to support, reinforce or, if needs be, withdraw the force under pressure – we are placing troops at risk and doing so to no purpose.

“The sad part is that it is the soldiers who will be blamed when, in fact, they will have done the best they could with what they had.”