The senior officer overseeing deployments and utilisation of South Africa’s military assets – ranging from riflemen on the ground through to pilots flying high-tech fighter jets and sailors at the helms of and aboard warships – this week told a Parliamentary oversight committee the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) is currently tasked with seven operations.
Three – operations Copper, Mistral and Vikela – are continental, with four – Arabella, Chariot, Corona and Prosper – internal, Joint Operations Division Chief Lieutenant General Siphiwe Sangweni informed parliamentarians.
Op Copper sees SA Navy (SAN) platforms and SA Air Force (SAAF) assets deployed in and above the Mozambique Channel as the major components of a regional block anti-piracy tasking. Its main objective, Sangweni’s presentation had it, is promotion of maritime security through regular patrols.
“The operation is currently paused due to the SAN Op Vikela deployment, capacity challenges and shortcomings in the SAN,” he said, adding “some operational objectives were achieved and encompassed through Op Vikela”.
Op Mistral is the longest serving external deployment and sees elements from the SA Air Force (SAAF), SA Army and SA Military Health Service in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) as part of the UN’s largest peace mission – MONUSCO. South Africa’s current commitment sees SANDF personnel attached to the Force Intervention Brigade (FIB) in terms of an infantry battalion, a tactical intelligence unit (TIU), a composite helicopter unit flying Oryx medium transports and Rooivalk combat support rotorcraft, as well as what the three-star general called a “SANDF specialist contingent”.
The South African deployment in DRC will be added to early next year when a quick reaction force (QRF) links with the FIB. Four QRFs are planned for speedier response to incidents in terms of the brigade’s offensive mandate to protect civilian Congolese from rebel groups.
Vikela, the codename for South Africa’s involvement in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Mission in Mozambique (SAMIM), has to date seen maritime and Special Forces elements in the east African country.
The South African rapid deployment capability in Mozambique is extended until at least January with a possible follow-up deployment in terms of a multi-dimensional peacekeeping framework.
Parliamentarians heard SAMIM forces made a positive difference to the security situation in the northern parts of Mozambique. “The deployment brought a certain degree of normalcy to affected areas and internal displaced persons (IDPs) are returning home. Terrorist units were dislodged from bases and strongholds in Mocimboa da Praia and Palma are now under control of government forces. SANDF force elements are in the forefront and lead in conduct of offensive operations,” Sangweni’s presentation said.
Internally, operations Arabella for aeronautical and maritime search and rescue, Chariot for humanitarian assistance and disaster management and Prosper, co-operating and assisting police in executing the primary duty of crime combatting are ongoing. Although Operation Chariot has mostly seen disaster relief activity such as firefighting, it is helping distribute COVID-19 vaccines across South Africa.
Operation Vimba is the SA Military Health Service (SAMHS) contribution to the Gauteng Department of Health effort to prevent the spread of coronavirus in the country’s most populous and economically active province.
Operation Notlela, the SANDF contribution to the national anti-COVID-19 effort, is not mentioned in the three-star general’s presentation. It initially saw soldiers and other military personnel deployed to enforce state of disaster regulations by way of urban patrols and roadblocks. These were tapered off as restrictions eased nevertheless a military presence remained visible in the overall government anti-coronavirus effort.
Internal operations are a constant in SANDF planning documentation and continue as and when called for and approved by Cabinet with President Cyril Ramaphosa, as SANDF Commander-in-Chief, informing Parliament of what he terms “the employment” of SANDF assets and resources.
The final internal operation is the border protection tasking Corona handed back to the SANDF 10 years ago when the SA Police Service (SAPS) “begged out”.
Corona currently and will for the foreseeable future see 15 companies, mainly infantry, deployed along South Africa’s land borders to prevent illegal immigration, stop smugglers and “create a deterrence to possible threats of foreign aggression across the international borderline”.