Parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Defence has heard of problems facing South African soldiers deployed continentally as part of peace support missions.
These include vehicles and other equipment not particularly suited to climate or terrain in particularly the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where the bulk of the South African continental deployment is following withdrawal from the hybrid AU/UN mission in Sudan this month.
“Conditions are very different to South Africa,” a senior officer from the SA National Defence Force’s (SANDF’s) Joint Operations (JOps) Division told the recent meeting. Apart from climate and terrain he also pointed out the South African soldiers found the tropical areas “difficult to navigate” with the same situation experienced in other areas “where infrastructure is poor and bridges and roads cannot withstand the weight of tankers and vehicles”.
These problems notwithstanding, the South Africa contingent deployed in the DRC as part of MONUSCO, the UN mission in the sprawling central African country, does its best to fulfil its role as part of the largest UN peace support mission in the world, numbering about twenty thousand.
South African forces are also an integral part of the MONUSCO Force Intervention Brigade (FIB) which has been instrumental in halting rebel advances and, in one instance, ensuring complete withdrawal of rebel forces. The Rooivalk combat support helicopters of 16 Squadron have proven a valuable asset to the FIB and are apparently set to remain in the DRC for another 12 months, along with other South African military assets in the first UN peacekeeping force with an offensive mandate.
The South African commitment to MONUSCO is codenamed Operation Mistral and the SANDF is involved in a second mission in the DRC. Mission Thebe is an SA Army training mission working with FARDC, the DRC defence force.
The withdrawal of South African military assets, both personnel and equipment, from UNAMID this month, means the only other continental operation the SANDF is currently involved in is Operation Copper, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) counter-piracy tasking in the Mozambique Channel.
This tasking has also apparently been extended for another year but no formal announcement in this regard has been released by the Presidency.