SA DR Congo dead named amid calls for better resourcing of SANDF

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The South African soldiers killed when a mortar hit their position at a SAMIDRC (Southern African Development Community Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo) base last week were infantrymen attached to 2 SA Infantry (SAI) Battalion for the continental deployment.

They were Captain Simon Mkhulu Bobe and Lance Corporal Irven Thabang Semono, on the personnel strength of 1 SAI in Bloemfontein. Their names were made public by Colonel Selinah Rawlins, Acting Director, Defence Corporate Communication (DCC). She provided no names of the three soldiers injured in the same mortar attack last Wednesday (14 February) saying they are still hospitalised and “remain in good condition”.

All five were in the advance party of the South African contingent for the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) peacekeeping mission. It is not known when the bulk of the 2 900-strong South African contingent will leave for the troubled central African country.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, Commander-in-Chief of the SA National Defence Force (SAND), authorised a 12-month deployment of just short of three thousand soldiers and support personnel at a cost of R2 billion. The duty period started on 15 December last year and is set to finish on the same date this December.

In addition to the home country’s Forces Armees de la Republic Democratique du Congo (FARDC), there will also be soldiers and support personnel from Malawi and Tanzania in the overall SAMIDRC force.

Malawi, South Africa and Tanzania have been troop contributing countries (TCCs) to the MONUSCO Force Intervention Brigade (FIB) since it was set up in 2013.

African Defence Review Director Darren Olivier compared the South African contribution to SAMIDRC similar to the Central African Republic (CAR) deployment which ended after 13 paratroopers were killed when defending a position in the CAR capital Bangui in March 2013 from what, by all accounts, was an overwhelming Seleka rebel force.

“There, also, a too-small force with inadequate support and an overly ambitious mandate was sent against a big, well-equipped, externally-supported force. Were any of Bangui’s lessons learnt?” Olivier asked.

He said South Africa owes it to the soldiers who put themselves in harm’s way on behalf of the country and its interests to do all possible to ensure they’re given a clear and reasonable path to success and the necessary support and equipment to achieve that and avoid unnecessary risk to their lives.

“That wasn’t done for those sent to Bangui back in 2013 and it hasn’t been done for those sent to staff SAMIDRC today. It’s still a mostly infantry-based force with little in the way of supporting assets or force multipliers and no air support.

“This isn’t to say troops should never be sent on risky missions. That is sometimes necessary to protect the country’s interests. But any such decision to deploy should be made cautiously, and soberly, with a clear mandate, strong odds of success, and transparent public messaging,” he added.

Olivier would mainly like to see more air support for the SANDF contribution to SAMIDRC, including Oryx transport helicopters, Rooivalk attack helicopters, A109 utility helicopters, and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). “Secondarily, better personal equipment (most SANDF gear is outdated), better vehicles, C-RAM [counter-rocket, artillery and mortar] systems, electronic warfare systems, etc.”

He pointed out that the SANDF operates Seeker 400 UAVs, but within Defence Intelligence and perhaps not available as tactical assets.

“The SANDF needs capital acquisition funding and political will to be able to procure systems to help with this, and as long as neither remains available they’ll be vulnerable I’m afraid. That’s why I’m saying the lessons of Bangui were not learnt,” he concluded.