Kenyan Forces Fly Burundian Troops to Eastern DRC Mission
When about 100 Burundi National Defence Forces troops needed to be flown to the volatile eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the Kenyan Defence Forces stepped up to get them there.
The Burundi contingent joined forces from Kenya, South Sudan and Uganda, all of which operate under the East African Community Regional Force, or EACRF. Angola announced in mid-March that it will also send a military unit to the region.
The Burundian troops were deployed to Saké, about 30 kilometers from Goma, capital of the North Kivu province, as well as Kitshanga and Kilorirwe. The primary objective is to enforce a fragile cease-fire agreed to by the insurgent group M23.
“The M23 must leave the zones that they are occupying and go where they are directed,” said Gen. Emmanuel Kaputa, deputy commander of the EACRF during the arrival of the Burundian troops. “And we are going to be sure that we protect these zones.”
In many parts of Africa, a lack of strategic airlift prevents militaries from moving troops and equipment between nations. It can also slow the delivery of essential supplies such as food and medicine after a natural disaster.
Rwandan Air Force Gen. Jean Jacques Mupenzi underscored their importance during last year’s African Air Chiefs Symposium in Rwanda.
“Our region is vast [and] characterized by limited transportation infrastructure, hence [it] requires effective air mobility mechanisms to bridge distances, support replenishment of troops in theatre … and attend to humanitarian assistance,” Mupenzi said in a report by Air & Space Forces magazine. “Strengthening regional cooperation in the air domain is critical in order to respond to common security challenges on the continent.”
Continental leaders are looking to create an Air Transport Sharing Mechanism under the African Union to share airlift resources and move troops and equipment where they’re needed most in times of crisis.
The Burundian contingent faced violence almost immediately as the M23 rebel group attacked the Burundian military base and a camp for displaced people a day after their arrival. The attack violated a cease-fire that had taken effect the day before. The failed cease-fire followed several other unsuccessful peace initiatives.
“These attacks were carried out with 82[-millimeter] and 120[-millimeter] mortars causing enormous damage,” Col. Kaiko Ndjike, spokesman for the governor of North Kivu, told The East African newspaper.
Fierce fighting between regional forces and armed rebel groups forced 300,000 people to flee eastern DRC in February alone.
“Civilians continue to pay the heavy and bloody price of conflict, including women and children who barely escaped the violence and are now sleeping out in the open air in spontaneous or organized sites, exhausted and traumatized,” Matthew Saltmarsh, spokesperson for the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR), said on the agency’s website.
UNHCR teams reported human rights violations in the Masisi and Rutshuru territories, “including arbitrary killings, kidnappings, extortion and rape,” Saltmarsh added.
About 5.5 million people were displaced within DRC as of November, while more than 500,000 had fled to Uganda, according to the UNHCR.
By mid-March, the M23 advanced closer to Goma, which has a population of 1 million. In Saké, armed troops packed tightly into large trucks rode past bands of people carrying what they could as they left town.
According to a timetable adopted by East African leaders in February, all armed groups must withdraw from eastern DRC by March 30.
Les M23 doivent quitter les zones qu’ils occupent pour aller là où on leur a indiqué et nous nous allons nous assurer de protéger ces zones”, a dit le général Emmanuel Kaputa, commandant adjoint de la force régionale de l’EAC.