SANDF Rooivalk attack helicopters have launched multiple attacks on Islamic-linked rebel forces in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The Ugandan separatist Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) have been behind a spate of massacres at schools‚ hospitals and villages in the region.
South African National Defence Force troops are in the area as part of a United Nations-backed peacekeeping mission to restore stability to the eastern DRC.
The attacks by the SANDF late yesterday were carried out despite the DRC government trying to forbid the UN’s actions.
Reports indicate that the helicopters caused considerable damage to several of the rebels’ bases‚ although exact losses of ADF personnel are unknown.
The attacks came as ADF forces were marching on several villages on the outskirts of eastern DRC town of Beni.
Infighting between the DRC government and the UN follows ADF fighters stepping up attacks on peacekeepers in the region.
In the latest incident‚ ADF fighters launched a multi-pronged attack on Sunday on two of the UN’s force intervention brigade’s bases as well as a hospital in which they hacked patients to death.
A Malawian peacekeeper and 31 civilians were killed and numerous people were injured‚ including peacekeepers.
The 10-hour assault on Sunday was the first time that the brigade‚ which includes peacekeepers from South Africa‚ Tanzania and Malawi‚ had confronted the ADF. South African soldiers were not caught up in these attacks.
The brigade was established in 2012 to counter attacks by rebel armies based in the eastern DRC‚ which have killed and displaced thousands of people.
Political bickering between the UN and the DRC government has left the brigade‚ which was highly successful in destroying the M23 rebel group in 2013‚ almost toothless in their response to current militia attacks.
South African diplomatic sources in Kinshasa said the tensions were over the DRC government’s military “allies”‚ the inclusion of several of its senior military commanders – who are accused of war crimes – in UN operations and the UN peacekeeping force’s size.
The UN peacekeeping mission to the DRC is its largest‚ with 20‚000 peacekeepers stationed in the country.
South Africa has 1‚400 troops in the mission‚ the majority in the country’s eastern region.
A diplomat‚ speaking on condition of anonymity‚ said the DRC government wanted the UN force considerably reduced.
“They are pushing for the numbers to drop to 7‚000. They know the UN won’t budge‚ which is what they want. With the UN not budging on troop decreases or the inclusion of its army commanders‚ who are accused of war crimes‚ in the UN’s military operations‚ the government is deliberating frustrating these [fighting] missions.”
He said the DRC government had the UN “over a barrel”.
“This suits them. The country is a hive of security concerns with political tensions rising.
“The country is meant to go to elections next year‚ but that plan is fading. There were meant to be local provincial elections in October‚ but they never happened‚ apparently because they were ‘too expensive’.
“The government spoke last week of setting up a dialogue forum around the election‚ but it’s clear they don’t want them held‚ giving no date for when the dialogue will begin.”
The country is set to go to the polls in November when President Joseph Kabila’s second term ends.
The diplomat said the Catholic church supported the dialogue‚ but not if it meant the elections would be postponed.
“The church is set to lead mass protests in February. The last mass protests in January ended with 40 shot dead by government forces. Political rivalry in the east heating up and now you have the ADF.”
He said the latest attacks by the ADF were of “serious concern”.
“They are increasing their attacks on the UN. They have butchered people in hospitals and gone on raping sprees. There are huge power and security voids‚ The last thing this country needs is a jihadist group gaining ground.”
Another diplomat said the brigade’s operations were deliberately being frustrated by the government’s refusal to allow it or other UN forces to allow it to take part in its military operations.
“Peacekeeping here requires the DRC’s military support. If its not provided the ADF and other militias will run riot.”
He said up until the demolishment of the M23‚ the brigade had received the government’s support.
“They were a ‘bother’ to the government‚ but now that our troops want to take on the other groups‚ most importantly the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda it is a different ball game.
“They are an ally to the government in that they share a common enemy‚ the Rwandan government. The brigade was meant to take them on in March‚ but that didn’t happen.
“The brigade was meant to take on a number of other militias‚ but without the government’s military support our troops are sitting idle. They are hamstrung in their fight against thousands and thousands of rebels.”
Major-General Barney Hlatshwayo‚ the SANDF’s Chief Operations Director‚ said the DRC had to accept the UN had a role to play.
“There has to be co-operation.”
Hlatshwayo said there were multiple rebel groups who were “problematic” in the DRC.
“It is not just the ADF. It is the FDLR and other such groups who also have to be dealt with decisively and urgently. This issue will require political intervention. The DRC government must understand this.”