The South African military involvement in the DR Congo Force Intervention Brigade (FIB) will continue until at least the end of the current MONUSCO extension of 20 December this year.
The UN mission’s FIB is the first ever peacekeeping unit given an offensive mandate as part of its tasking to protect civilians. It is a Southern African Development Community (SADC) brigade staffed by airmen, medics and soldiers from Malawi, South Africa and Tanzania.
The South African contingent of the FIB is an infantry battalion and a two–type rotary-winged component, known as the Composite Helicopter (CHU). South Africa has been a component of the UN MONUSCO mission – the world body’s largest – since 2013. The FIB is currently commanded by South African Brigadier General Patrick Dube.
The infantry battalion currently in DR Congo is Zeerust, North West, headquartered 2 SAI with around 1 300 personnel in the central African country. 2 SAI replaced Phalaborwa-headquartered 7 SAI mid-last year and will end its peace mission deployment in mid-2020.
The CHU comprises three Rooivalk combat support helicopters from 16 Squadron at AFB Bloemspruit and five Oryx medium transport helicopters, drawn from either 17, 19 and 22 Squadrons or 87 Helicopter Flying School. The CHU works on short rotations or both air and ground crew.
An indication of the commitment shown by SA Air Force (SAAF) personnel came last year when an Oryx pilot was nominated for the UN Captain Mbaye Diagne Medal for Exceptional Courage, the world body’s highest peacekeeping award. It was posthumously awarded to Malawian peacekeeper Private Chancy Chitete, who saved a wounded colleague’s life at the expense of his own during a firefight with militia.
Lieutenant Colonel Stefan King of AFB Hoedspruit-based 19 Squadron was nominated for the Diagne Medal with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres using phrases including “remarkable courage” and “extraordinary” to describe his exploits in helping ground-based troops under attack. King and his aircrew (co-pilot Lieutenant Ernest Hlongwane and flight engineer Warrant Officer Fanie Jiyane) used flares to deter an attack on fellow FIB soldiers.