M23 rebels claim to have damaged another SANDF vehicle in the DRC

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Shortly after killing one South African soldier and injuring over a dozen on Thursday, M23 rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) claim to have destroyed a South African armoured personnel carrier (APC) in further fighting against government/SAMIDRC forces.

On Thursday, South African National Defence Force (SANDF) members serving with the Southern African Development Community Mission in the DRC (SAMIDRC) came into contact with the M23 at Sake, 25 km from Goma, with 13 injured and one killed as well as two APCs damaged, according to the SANDF. However, other reports suggest 22 were injured, and one soldier had to have a foot amputated after the Mfezi mine-resistant ambulance he was driving in was hit by mortar fire. Unconfirmed reports suggest one Tanzanian soldier killed and seven wounded along with a dozen M23 rebels killed.

The attack on Sake began with the M23 bombarding the area, followed by Congolese Army (FARDC), SAMIDRC and Wazelendo militia launching a counterattack, although the M23 claim government/SAMIDRC forces attacked first. It appears the Mfezi was damaged in the ensuing firefight, and a Casspir and Mamba damaged or abandoned along with a Tanzanian IVECO truck carrying ammunition. Subsequent video purported to show the Casspir being driven away by the rebels.

On Friday, Lawrence Kanyuka, M23 political spokesperson, released a statement claiming that M23 fighters had attacked and set on fire an armoured vehicle belonging to the SANDF in Mubambiro, on the outskirts of Goma, and shared a video of smoke emanating from the vehicle while parked on base. The M23 said SAMIDRC vehicles were subsequently evacuated to the Goma city centre.

Screenshot from a video apparently showing an SA Army armoured vehicle burning after being hit by M23 fire.

African Defence Review Director Darren Olivier said the reports emanating from the DRC are “deeply worrying. SANDF troops in with the SADC mission in the DRC are under-equipped for the task and at unnecessary risk. They’re up against a force that has ATGMs [anti-tank guided missiles] yet have only lightly armoured vehicles.”

He warned that while the SANDF has sufficient resources, on paper, to be able to handle a threat with this type of equipment, severely low funding levels have sharply reduced availability and the ability to deploy these assets. That South Africa hasn’t sent any air support is the most obvious example.

“This isn’t an argument to end the mission: M23’s advance is a threat to South Africa and the region’s interests and it makes sense for SADC to intervene. But the force needs proper support, funding, and equipment. It’s not a peacekeeping force, it should not be armed like one.

“The increasingly poor state of SANDF individual soldier kit and the apparent inability of the force to keep its stores full and its personnel properly equipped is a huge failure of both top military and civilian leadership. It’s never acceptable, you have to get these basics right.

“South Africa is seeing the consequences of decades of underfunding of the SANDF relative to its size and the missions that the country has mandated it perform, as well as allowing for a culture of complacency both in Cabinet and the military command councils. The cost will be steep,” he concluded.

The SANDF’s deployment with SAMIDRC got off to a shaky start when two soldiers were killed and three injured in an M23 mortar attack on a base on 14 February.

President Cyril Ramaphosa has committed up to 2 900 SANDF soldiers to SAMIDRC until mid-December. SAMIDRC will fill much of the gap left by the departure this year of the United Nations mission (MONUSCO) in the DRC. Apart from confirmation of 2 900 South African military personnel being contributed under Operation Thiba at a cost of R2.37 billion, there is no information from the SADC on Malawian and Tanzanian troop numbers that will make up the rest of the 5 000-strong SAMIDRC force.