‘Madness’ to deploy SA troops in DRC

Henry

The South African military simply does not have the capacity to successfully conduct a counterinsurgency campaign against M23 rebels in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

“Pres. Cyril Ramaphosa’s decision to deploy 2,900 South African army members in the east of the DRC is reckless, irrational and must be reversed immediately,” says Kobus Marais, the DA’s spokesperson on defense and military veterans.

Marais says that what is particularly worrying is that Ramaphosa gave approval for the deployment without informing Parliament of his intention in time. This is a requirement in terms of the Constitution. Parliament’s defense committees have not yet been officially informed about it either and “only became aware of it through the media”.

RNews reported earlier that the South African soldiers will be deployed in the DRC for a year, at a cost of R2 billion. Ramaphosa says the soldiers were deployed as part of South Africa’s compliance with its international obligations towards the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and its fight against illegal armed groups in the east of the DRC.

The soldiers were deployed on 15 December last year and will remain in the DRC until 15 December this year. However, according to Ramaphosa, the R2 billion that will be spent on this will not affect the provision for the army’s regular maintenance and emergency repairs.

“The obligation to contribute troops to the SADC mission in the DRC is borne by all SADC member states,” he said.

However, Marais says the president disregarded warnings from several military experts about the deployment and “unilaterally decided to put our troops at risk”.

Moreover, South Africa should not take on a military duty that rests squarely with the African Union and the East African Community. “We simply do not have the capacity and are out of our depth in battles against rebels on terrain we are unfamiliar with,” says Marais.

South Africa has no Rooivalk helicopters available at this stage, and the five Oryx helicopters already in the DRC are likely to be reduced to two.

“Regardless of whether the deployment is done in phases or all at once, the foreign deployment of 2,900 troops is easily the largest in South Africa’s democratic era. It is utter madness to deploy a force of that size without adequate or no air support.”

Marais says the deployment also shows Ramaphosa has not learned lessons from the past and is repeating the same mistakes that were made with missions in Bangui, Cabo Delgado and also recently in the DRC itself. South African troops were under fire there and this “led to unnecessary loss of life”.

“There is a big chance that the M23 rebels, because they are familiar with the terrain, will fall back on traps on the South African army to unleash the maximum damage on our troops.”

In addition to the danger to life, the “thought that R2 billion will be spent on the deployment is simply ridiculous”.

Marais says the money could have been much better used to refurbish the army’s equipment and improve the logistics capacity of the military value chain.

“We cannot weaken South Africa’s defense capacity at home with a war that has no strategic value for our country,” says Marais.

He says army resources should instead be used to improve border patrols.

“A foreign deployment should only be done when there is clear evidence that events outside our national borders pose an immediate and direct threat to South Africa’s national security.

“The conflict in the DRC does not fall into that category.”

Increasing violence

The United Nations (UN) Security Council has already expressed its concern about “increasing violence” in the east of the DRC and strongly condemned the attack launched by M23 rebels earlier this month.

Clashes between the M23 rebels, among the strongest of dozens of armed groups that roam the country’s east – and the Congolese army, have intensified recently.

The DRC, the UN and Western countries claim Rwanda is supporting the rebels in an attempt to take control of large mineral resources, an allegation that Kigali denies, reports AFP.

The M23 rebels have taken over large parts of the North Kivu province since 2021. It is an area that has been crippled by violence for decades after regional wars in the 1990s.

UN forces have been deployed in the DRC for nearly 25 years, but have been accused of failing to protect civilians from armed groups.

Additional source: AFP