Lack of airlift capacity leaves SA soldiers in the lurch


Months of intensive and at times brutal, training, are on hold for 5 SA Infantry Battalion as soldiers kick their heels at the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) mobilisation centre in Bloemfontein awaiting transport to the DRC.

The 850 soldiers from the Ladysmith, KwaZulu-Natal headquartered infantry battalion were due to fly out and replace their 6 SA Infantry Battalion colleagues in the UN Force Intervention Brigade (FIB) in Goma on Friday after a farewell parade at the mobilisation centre last Wednesday.

Captain (SAN) Jaco Theunissen, SANDF Joint Operations SSO Operational Communications, today confirmed to defenceWeb the new rotation was still in Bloemfontein while 6 SAI soldiers were waiting for aircraft to bring them home at both Goma in the DRC and Entebbe Airport in Uganda.

The SA Air Force (SAAF) has a 28 Squadron C-130BZ awaiting repairs at Entebbe, Afrikaans daily Beeld reported, adding the lack of airlift capacity in the SANDF meant a charter aircraft would have to be arranged along with the necessary flight clearances. These can take up to five days to finalise and the paper said sources had pointed out ignorance of charter flight arrangements or fraudulent motives to benefit certain aircraft operators were the causes of yet another logistic problem for the SANDF in its government tasked peacekeeping role in Africa.

The worst example to date was the lack of air support prior to the ill-fated Battle for Bangui in the Central African Republic (CAR) capital last March. That encounter with South African soldiers battling valiantly against an overwhelming number of rebels led to the death of 15 members of 1 Parachute Battalion and 5 Special Forces Regiment.

The 5 SAI soldiers have been allocated to the FIB for a 12 month period of service, double that done by their 6 SAI colleagues. The deployment period has been lengthened to allow soldiers to properly accustomise to local conditions and FIB operations.

A number of emergency meetings were held at various military facilities late last week but at the time of publication nothing positive on the movement of soldiers had been received from Joint Operations.