DR Congo: The Intervention Brigade Dribbles Into Action

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June 10, 2013: Logistics problems continue to delay the deployment of the UN’s Intervention Brigade. This comes as no surprise. Central Africa in general lacks transportation infrastructure. There are few paved roads.  The intercontinental airports in the national capitals are adequate, but airfields in the hinterland are a very mixed lot. Many airfields in eastern Congo are dirt fields that can only handle small planes (think Cessna) and helicopters.  The UN currently uses Goma’s airport (North Kivu province) as a logistical “airhead” (airfield as a logistics terminal) but it is inadequate.  Everyone knows it needs improvements.  The airport and the city lack sufficient facilities for storing supplies. Experienced military commanders and planners know a combat operation should never rely on one key supply source, and the UN Intervention Brigade has an offensive combat mission. The Goma airport is vulnerable to rebel attack. During the last week of May, M23 rebels repeatedly hit the airport with mortar fire. M23 suspended the attacks so UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon could fly in to Goma for a speech. Media reported that UN personnel said the Secretary General’s very large travelling entourage encountered numerous transportation and logistics problems in eastern Congo.  A second UN-sponsored group was also in the region. According to one official, supporting the two groups proved to be a logistical nightmare. Supporting the Intervention Brigade is far more complicated and there are problems here that may not be solved. This would limit the mobility and effectiveness of the Intervention Brigade. (Austin Bay)

June 9, 2013: M23 said that it had sent a representative to Uganda’s capital, Kampala, to participate in a new round of peace talks with the Congolese government.

June 6, 2013: UN officials in Congo stated that Secretary General Ban Ki Moon’s visit to the country and his stop in Goma has had a positive diplomatic outcome. The M23 rebel movement is indicating that it will resume peace negotiations in Uganda after having been suspended since early May.

June 5, 2013: A UN believes that nations involved in the Framework initiative for stabilizing central Africa must be prepared to fight the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) rebel group. The FDLR was founded by Rwandan Interahamwe Hutu extremists who organized and participated in the 1994 Rwandan genocide.  The Rwandan Patriotic Front stopped the genocide and defeated the Interahamwe. Surviving Interahamwe fled into the eastern Congo. The Interahamwe were radical members of the Hutu tribe-dominated National Republican Movement for Democracy and Development (MRND) which ruled Rwanda from 1975 to 1994. Rwanda has claimed that the FDLR receives support from sources in the Congo. The Rwandan government will not negotiate with the FDLR and that’s why the Intervention Brigade may include the FDLR on its list of targeted militias and rebel groups.

June 3, 2013: The Tanzanian brigadier general who has been designated as commander of the Intervention Brigade, BG James Aloizi Mwakibolwa, said that the brigade will operate as part of the UN Monitoring and Stabilization Mission in Congo (MONUSCO).  Some UN sources now refer to the brigade as MONUSCO’s Force Intervention Brigade. The brigade will be based in North Kivu province and have 3,069 soldiers. Mwakibolwa sees four essential tasks for the unit: neutralizing armed groups; reducing the threat posed to Congolese government authority; providing security for Congolese civilians; and creating space for stabilization activities (UN jargon for establishing secured areas). The brigade will carry out targeted offensive operations in order to neutralize the armed groups. The Congolese Army may or may not participate in the offensive operations conducted by the Intervention Brigade.

June 1, 2013: The South African government said that it supports deployment of the UN’s Intervention Brigade in the eastern Congo but it hopes that Congo and the M23 rebel group will restart peace negotiations. However, South African media are giving a lot of attention to the Intervention Brigade’s peace enforcement mandate – that is UN peacekeeping jargon for an offensive mission.  Senior members of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) political party have also raised the issue of foreign support for some of the rebel militias the brigade will likely confront.  A spokesman did not specifically mention Rwanda but Rwanda has been accused of providing M23 with money, weapons and training. Rwanda denies the accusation.

May 29, 2013: M23 rebels said they are willing to agree to an extended ceasefire. Over the last ten days, M23 and the Congolese Army have engaged in several firefights north of the city of Goma (capital of North Kivu province). An M23 spokesman said that the rebels are positioned near Goma’s airport and they can target the airport very easily because they have fighters on a hill overlooking the airport. M23 also accused allies of the government (likely a pro-government militia) of attacking its fighters while they were securing fresh water supplies. M23 takes its named from the March 23, 2009 peace agreement which was supposed to end the chaotic fighting in North Kivu province. The M23 rebels contend the government broke its side of the agreement. One major M23 criticism is that the rebels did not receive their fair share of positions in the Congolese Army.

May 28, 2013: A civilian group in north Kivu province has accused the Rwandan government of sending four battalions of soldiers into the Congo. The Rwandans allegedly fought a battle near the town of Mutaho (north of Goma, near the airport). Rwanda denied the accusation. Four battalions is a large body of troops and it is very unlikely that a large group of Rwandan soldiers entered the Congo. M23 rebels and Congolese forces have been skirmishing in the area.

The UN reported that a MONUSCO peacekeeping unit from the Indian Army is deployed on the north side of Goma. The unit is supported by armored vehicles.

The UN announced that the deployment of the Intervention Brigade will be delayed.  The UN and contributing nations are experiencing severe logistical difficulties. Diplomats are also saying that South Africa has told them that its military will need more time to fully deploy its troop contingent in part because South Africa is already extensively involved in other peacekeeping operations. South Africa does have a lead contingent on the ground in Goma. Tanzania has a contingent in Goma as well, which is where the brigade headquarters will be. Malawi has committed troops to serve in the brigade. Since 13 South African peacekeepers were killed in the Central African Republic (CAR) earlier this year, a number of South Africans have questioned the Intervention Brigade deployment. The critics argue that South Africa is already doing more than its share of sub-Saharan peacekeeping.

May 23, 2013:  The UN Secretary visited Goma and delivered a speech. He declared that improving security and development must go forward simultaneously in Congo. Before his arrival, M23 said that it would observe a ceasefire.  The rebels demanded that the government sign a ceasefire agreement.

May 22, 2013: UN observers reported more skirmishing around Goma (North Kivu). Two days of shellfire (probably mortar fire) has wounded 15 civilians in Goma.  At least one child was killed by shellfire. The fire came from M23 rebel positions.

The World Bank has promised central Africa $1 billion in aid. Congo will get money for medical services, education and electrical generation projects.

May 20, 2013: At least 19 soldiers and rebel fighters were killed when M23 rebels fought with a pro-government militia group north of Goma. The government said it lost four Congolese Army soldiers and that the rebels lost 15 killed. Observers described the fighting as the heaviest in the area since November 2012.

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