The South African contingent of the MONUSCO Force Intervention Brigade (FIB) has again proven its worth in the DRC with Rooivalk combat support helicopters and infantry soldiers pivotal in an encounter with APCLS (Alliance of Patriots for a Free and Sovereign Congo) rebels.
One of the three 16 Squadron Rooivalks that are now part of the FIB’s aviation unit provided air support for a South African infantry battalion in an attack on an APCLS stronghold at the weekend, Afrikaans daily Beeld reported.
“No South Africans were injured in the encounter and at least 11 rebels were killed,” Captain (SAN) Jaco Theunissen, SA National Defence Force (SANDF) Joint Operations spokesman told the paper.
The South Africans were, as in previous engagements with rebel groups including M23, deployed in support of FARDC, the Armed Forces of the DRC.
The weekend engagement took place in the Nyabiondo/Lukweti area of North Kivu, north-west of Goma.
APCLS rebels had taken up position on a mountain top and were using 12.7mm and 14.5 mm machine guns to keep the FIB/FARDC ground troops at bay. Efforts to dislodge the rebels using mortars proved unsuccessful and saw the Rooivalk called in to provide air support.
“The target was neutralised by Rooivalk by mid-Sunday afternoon and the rebel group deserted their position and ran away according to reports from soldiers on the ground,” Theunissen said adding the full extent of the damage suffered by the rebels was unknown, with 11 still to be confirmed kills.
A source told Beeld this was “just about the end” of APCLS.
“The FIB has taken back a number of towns previously controlled by APCLS,” he said.
According to Institute for Strategic Studies (ISS) DRC specialist Stephanie Wolters, APCLS is one of the smaller rebel groups operating in eastern DRC but it has been a factor in the overall destabilisation of the country.
Since being deployed to DRC last year as part of the FIB, the first ever UN peacekeeping mission to be given an offensive mandate, the South African contingent has been active in ensuring M23’s retreat into Uganda.
The South African developed and built Rooivalk has been in the forefront of a number of FARDC/FIB sorties against various rebel groups including the ADF (Allied Democratic Forces).
The combat support helicopter has earned high praise from Martin Kobler, MONUSCO head.
“Its accuracy enables us to achieve our clear objectives, including protection of civilians.”
The 16 Squadron rotary-winged aircraft were airlifted to the DRC last October and, in addition to several attacks on rebel forces and positions, have also flown reconnaissance and escort missions in the strife-torn country.
A number of SA Air Force (SAAF) Oryx helicopters are also in DRC as part of the MONUSCO peacekeeping mission.