Cabinet returns troops to border, approves military strategy

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The outgoing administration of President Kgalema Motlanthe has approved a new military strategy and force structure for the South African National Defence Force and has also returned the military to the task of borderline protection.

The executive approved a police request that the military “support the South African Police Service with borderline control for the duration of the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup and the 2010 FIFA World Cup Finals”.

The SANDF was scheduled to withdraw from this task at the end of last month and wind up “Operation Intexo.” The military has been patrolling the national land boundaries since 1987 when they took over the task from the police to free the latter`s now-defunct counterinsurgency units to combat the military wing of the then-banned African National Congress.   

Experts have long warned against the withdrawal of the military from this task, arguing that the police currently lack the training, equipment and logistics for the mission. They say the ongoing chaos along the Lesotho border endorses their argument. Farmers in the area complain of rampant cross-border stock theft and crime, noting that thieves have in many places even removed the border fence.     

The SANDF pulled back from the Lesotho frontier some years ago and handed over the Mozambican boundary to police last year. They also this year curtailed operations along the Zimbabwe border to make way for the police.

A defence department source says police “at literally the last minute” asked Cabinet to keep the military in place. Power and telephone lines to the last two bases on the Zimbabwe border had already been cut and troops were about to board busses back to base when a message came from the defence ministry for them to stay in place.  

It is not clear what force levels will be deployed where and for what duration. At present, one infantry company remains along the Zimbabwe border under the control of police. The source says the police have to date not required much of the troops who are largely loitering in the area of their base.

A Ministry of Defence spokesman says “the question of borderline is still under discussion” with no formal decisions made as yet.   

The source further adds that the SA Army is circumscribed in its ability to return to the border. Neither it nor the Joint Operations Division has budgeted for such a return and remaining Intexo funding has been used to pay for the SANDF`s support to the Confederations Cup (Operation Kgwele). The Army also has eight companies on standby for the June tourney and may have to deploy even more to protect the World Cup. Both the Army and Joint Operations have this year said the land service was already “severely overstretched” with its existing responsibilities.         

Taking from Peter to pay Paul has also affected vehicle availability. The source says money meant for armoured and other vehicle maintenance has been spent elsewhere, leaving the Army short of transport for both the Confederations Cup and border patrol.    

Military strategy

Meanwhile, Cabinet in its last meeting before this week`s election also “noted and endorsed” a military strategy and force structure document entitled “SANDF 2010-2030”.

The content of this document is obscure as is its relationship with “Defence Update 2025”, the Department of Defence`s rewrite of the 1996 Defence White Paper and 1998 Defence Review. DoD and SANDF officials were at the time of publication locked in a strategy workshop regarding the document. None of the external commentators and analysts or available sources canvassed could shed any light on the strategy.           

Peacekeeping

Cabinet also approved the extension of the deployment of the SANDF in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to provide training to that country`s armed forces under Project Thebe. “This extension will be until March 2010. The extension of the deployment of members of the SANDF in Burundi was also approved.”

The ministry spokesman and a further source say SA will start winding down its Burundi deployment in June. The country was to have withdrawn from Burundi, where it is supporting that country`s peace process, in December. The spokesman says all but 350 personnel will be back by end-June and the remainder by year end.

Cabinet in March approved the extension of deployments to the Central African Republic, the United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) (MONUC, Operation Mistral), the South African Detachment Assisting with Integration and Training in the DRC (SADAIT, Operation Teutonic), United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN, Operation Induli), United Nations /African Union Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID, Operation Cordite), African Union Mission in Northern Uganda (Operation Bongani), and the Specialist and Advisory Team in the DRC (Operation Teutonic).



“The deployment is in line with government strategy to promote the peaceful resolution of conflict in the African continent and the fulfilment of our international obligations,” Cabinet said in a statement on 18 March.