Around 700 soldiers from 5 South African Infantry (SAI) Battalion are in the Port St Johns area of the Eastern Cape for jungle warfare training ahead of their deployment with the United Nation’s Force Intervention Brigade in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
After completing their jungle warfare training in Port St Johns, the soldiers will be sent to Bloemfontein for final training before a few weeks of leave and then deployment to the DRC at the beginning of June.
The 5 SAI soldiers have been in Port St Johns since the beginning of April. Spokesperson, Captain (SAN) Jaco Theunissen, said that the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) must, in accordance with a Memorandum of Understanding with the United Nations, supply forces for deployment under the UN flag in the DRC.
“To better equip the deploying forces, the soldiers are prepared in a forest environment where it is necessary to adapt the current battle tactics to suit the circumstances that they will operate in the DRC. The only area in South Africa that allows the SANDF to achieve this objective is the Port St Johns area,” he said.
“From Port St Johns 5 SAI Bn will move to the SANDF Mobilisation Unit in Bloemfontein to receive Mission Readiness Training and to mobilise before they will start the rotation to the DRC around June 2017,” said Theunissen. “They will be deployed for a twelve month period”.
In Port St Johns they are being trained by Colonel William Dixon, who was the force commander in the Central African Republic in 2013 and who was in charge during the Battle of Bangui.
Training does not cover just jungle warfare, but also fighting in built up environments, medical evacuation and protecting civilians. Some of the training uses Saab’s Gamer Manpack live simulation training system.
5 SAI has been deployed to the DRC before, and replaced 6 SAI in mid-2014 for a year-long deployment. Although most previous UN deployments are for six months it is more economical and effective to deploy forces for a year, as less time is spent acclimatising with one deployment per year than two.
In addition to soldiers, the SANDF has aerial assets and vehicles deployed with the UN mission in the DRC, including three Rooivalk attack helicopters and five Oryx transport helicopters. The South African aviation unit is an operational tool of the UN force commander, meaning that the helicopters are under UN, not South African, control.