The more than 1 300 SA National Defence Force (SANDF) personnel and SA Air Force (SAAF) rotary-winged aircraft, including three Rooivalk attack helicopters, look set to remain in service with the United Nations mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
The South African commitment to the MONUSCO mission is known as Operation Mistral with a second, far smaller SANDF deployment, involved in training the country’s military under Operation Thebe.
A UN Security council resolution adopted last week is set to see troop numbers to the mission – the single largest peacekeeping and peace support operation undertaken by the UN - cut by around two thousand. At the same time the mission’s mandate was extended by another year. MONUSCO remains the only UN mission with an offensive mandate through its Force intervention Brigade (FIB), staffed by South Africa, Tanzania and Malawi.
MONUSCO total deployment numbers are just below the 20 000 mark. This includes military and police personnel as well as civilians employed by the world body in the DRC.
Captain (SAN) Jaco Theunissen, SANDF Joint Operations spokesman, today said no instruction on possible withdrawal of any South African elements from MONUSCO had yet been received.
The former commander of the SANDF’s Joint Operations Division, Lieutenant General Derrick Mgwebi, has been MONUSCO force commander since December 2015 and it appears he will remain in the post. A UN statement last week setting out the Security Council resolution to cut the number of blue helmets in the central African country made no mention of a new force commander.
16 Squadron’s Rooivalk combat support helicopters have made major contributions to the MONUSCO FIB since first being deployed in late October 2013. Squadron Officer Commanding, Lieutenant Colonel Danie Bellingan, last year said the South African designed, developed and manufactured Rooivalk was more highly regarded than the Russian Mi-24 in the DRC.
He said this was partly due to pilot training and partly due to Rooivalk’s superior range and endurance. Rooivalk is usually first to attack a target, followed by Mi-24s after it has been marked. Bellingan said the Mi-24 crews regularly asked South African pilots for advice, which indicates “we are doing something right. It’s quite a feather in the cap for us.” He said Mi-8 helicopters specifically request to be escorted by the Rooivalk in the DRC.
There are also five SAAF Oryx medium transport helicopters deployed to MONUSCO at any one time.
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