South African military expertise has again been requested by the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to train FARDC soldiers.
It is not a new task for SA Army instructors who have been training soldiers from the regular DRC army for at least the past four years in terms of an agreement between the two countries. Operation Thebe, as it is known, is separate from South Africa’s involvement in and commitment to the UN Mission in the DRC – MONUSCO – and its Force Intervention Brigade (FIB).
The issue of more training was raised this month when FARDC Commander General Etumba Didier called on SANDF Chief General Solly Shoke in Pretoria. One of the points on their agenda was the training of FARDC recruits at Mura Base near Likasi. SA Army Chief Lieutenant General Vusi Masondo said the last assignment of South African military instructors was to train a brigade of FARDC recruits and this had been successfully done. Instructors were withdrawn and returned to their home bases in South Africa on completion of the training cycle.
Masondo indicated another request to train had been received from the DRC military adding there was, as yet, no indication of when it would start. It appears the intention is to move instructors back into DRC when recruits start reporting to Mura Base and again train up a brigade in the basic military skills.
Earlier this year Masondo said that Operation Thebe had trained and handed over more than 9 000 recruits and soldiers for utilisation by the DRC.
Another indication of the increasing role the South African military is executing in continental peacekeeping and peace support operations came to light during the recent SAAF Association conference at Langebaan.
A senior officer, representing SAAF Chief Lieutenant General Zakes Msimang, told the conference the airborne arm of the SANDF was currently tasked do to more outside South Africa than internally. This has seen transport aircraft, transport helicopters and the Rooivalk combat support helicopter deployed as part of UN, AU and Southern African Development Community missions. Gripen fighters have also briefly been out of country.
“It was interesting to hear the SAAF is now operational in Africa more than in South Africa,” one conference delegate said, adding this was a further indication of the “important role” government sees for the SANDF in its foreign policy.