Forty-eight hours after SA National Defence Force (SANDF) Commander-in-Chief, President Jacob Zuma, confirmed South Africa’s continued commitment to the UN Force Intervention Brigade (FIB) in the DRC, the world body said the brigade would remain operational until March 31, 2015.
The South African contingent of the FIB would also be upped by six, bringing it to 1 351. The overall strength of military personnel in MONUSCO, the UN Organisation Stabilisation Mission in the DRC, stands at 19 815.
Other components of MONUSCO are 760 military observers, 391 police personnel and 1 050 “personnel of former police units,” according to a UN Department of Peacekeeping statement.
The extension of the FIB deployment goes hand in hand with another year’s existence for MONUSCO, which has been operational since 2010.
The Security Council decision to extend the operational lives of both its mission in DRC and the FIB, forms part of the UN’s intentions to strengthen support for the Congolese government so it can address security challenges in line with the aims of a regional peace and security accord.
South Africa, via both ground and air assets, has been an integral part of the FIB and contributed to M23 having to seek refuge in Uganda after a number of firefights in which 16 Squadron Rooivalk combat support helicopters played a major role. The locally designed and built rotorcraft have subsequently also been used in offensives against other rebel groups, including the FDLR (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda), ADF (Allied Democratic Forces) and LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army).
On the ground a SANDF sniper was credited with a more than two kilometre kill in an action against M23 positions and the SANDF contingent has been praised by both UN and FARDC senior officers for professionalism during the course of the deployment to date.
The next group of SANDF personnel to take up station at FIB headquarters outside Goma in eastern DRC at the end of May have been drawn from the SA Army’s 5 SA Infantry Battalion. In preparation for the year-long tour of duty the group has been undergoing intensive jungle warfare training at Port St Johns in Eastern Cape. The area was previously used to train the former Transkei Defence Force and is said to be almost an exact replica of the terrain South African soldiers will encounter in DRC.
MONUSCO and the FIB will continue to protect civilians, neutralise armed groups in “a robust, highly mobile and versatile manner and in strict compliance with international law”, monitor implementation of the arms embargo that is in place in the DRC and provide support to national and international judicial process in the country.