Non-availability of aircraft delays SA SAMIDRC deployment

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South Africa’s commitment to the Southern African Development Community (SADC) peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) did not have an auspicious start – apart from two deaths in an advance party, the non-availability of aircraft meant at least part of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) deployment did not leave for the central African country as planned.

This was one item in a lengthy presentation to today’s (Thursday, 21 February’s) Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans (PCDMV). The Department of Defence (DoD) presentation covered the third quarter of the current financial year (2023/24, which ends on 31 March). Force employment, “human resource status” along with governance and accountability were part of the 38 slide presentation.

The regional security component of the presentation included Operation Thiba, translated to “block it” from Southern Sotho – the name for the latest SANDF deployment to the DRC. The committee was informed “the SANDF is mobilising the quick reaction force (QRF) and support elements to deploy in the SADC Mission in the DRC [SAMIDRC] in order to support the Government of the DRC in its effort to neutralise the negative forces and illegal armed groups by restoring peace and security in the DRC”.

“The projection of forces,” as per the presentation, “was planned to begin from 15 December 2023, but not realised due to the unavailability of aircraft”.

There is no mention of when and with what troops and equipment will be airlifted to the DRC. Unconfirmed reports have it President Felix Tshisekedi’s government will be responsible for ensuring the arrival of SANDF elements as well as those from Malawi and Tanzania, at this stage the only confirmed troop contributing countries (TCCs) to the fledgling mission. South Africa is contributing 2 900 troops out of a total 5 000 for the force.

Also on the DRC, the PCDMV was informed the SANDF continues its participation in the United Nations (UN) PSO (peace support operation) MONUSCO by way of Operation Mistral. This sees the SANDF as one of three TCCs to the MONUSCO Force Intervention Brigade (FIB) including an SA Army tactical intelligence unit (TIU) and a quick reaction force based in Mavivi as well as an SA Air Force (SAAF) composite helicopter unit (CHU) in Goma. The presentation makes no mention of the SA Military Health Service (SAMHS) deployment, also in Goma.

The only other “regional” deployment listed in the presentation is Operation Vikela, the South African commitment to the SADC Mission in Mozambique (SAMIM). It notes quarter three saw the SANDF providing “general military assistance” combatting terrorism and violent extremism. South Africa, along with Angola, Botswana, DRC, Lesotho, Malawi, Tanzania and Zambia have been in Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado since August 2021 in a deployment set to end by mid-year.