US-trained Congolese troops to aid efforts against M23 rebels
By JOHN VANDIVER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 18, 2012
STUTTGART, Germany — A U.S.-trained light infantry battalion of Congolese soldiers, which has been supporting operations against the Lord’s Resistance Army, has been redeployed to help halt advances by another rebel group in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, according to the United Nations.
The U.N. Security Council this week condemned recent attacks in the eastern region of the republic by a group known as M23, made up of renegade former government soldiers. Fighting between Congolese forces, known by the French acronym FARDC, and M23 rebels has displaced more than 220,000 people, according to the U.N. Many of them have fled to neighboring Rwanda and Uganda.
A U.N. official confirmed that the 391st battalion, which numbers about 750 U.S.-trained troops, has been redirected to the city of Goma, capital of North Kivu province, which is believed to be under threat from M23.
“The 391 FARDC has been redeployed from Dungu to Goma, not to back-up U.N. forces, but to replace FARDC troops that had been deployed in Goma, which had been defeated by the M23 armed group in North Kivu,” Fernando Falcon of the U.N. Office of the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict said in a statement.
U.N. peacekeepers also have beefed up their presence in the area. The M23, comprised of soldiers who mutinied in April, is believed to be led by Bosco Ntaganda, an army general wanted by the International Criminal Court, the U.N. said this week.
In its statement Monday, the Security Council expressed “deep concern with the sharply deteriorating situation in the North Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the worsening of the humanitarian situation in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the increasing number of displaced persons and refugees and reports of both sexual violence and the use of child soldiers.”
The 391st battalion, designed to serve as an elite rapid-reaction force for the DRC, was trained in 2010 by U.S. special operations forces. The U.S. spent roughly $15 million to build the battalion, which the DRC later decided to use in operations against the Lord’s Resistance Army, an elusive rebel group that has caused unrest across much of central Africa for years. Countering the LRA also has been a top priority for U.S. Africa Command.
Last year, the U.S. deployed about 100 special forces to help train African troops to hunt down the rebel group and its leader, Joseph Kony.
Since becoming operational, reports from the field about the unit’s performance have generally been positive, according to AFRICOM.
“In general, they have been doing well,” said Eric Elliott, an AFRICOM spokesman, in a statement. “We receive positive feedback from Congolese leadership and they want more training.”
Discussions about potential future training missions are continuing, Elliott said.
“While things have not always been ideal,” Elliott said, “they have remained intact,” with the Congolese troops training with the U.N. Organization Stabilization Mission in DRC and providing some help in anti-LRA efforts.
Congolese soldiers perform room-clearing exercises in the former Belgian army officer quarters in this April 2011 photo taken in the military camp in Kisangani, Democratic Republic of the Congo. A U.S.-trained light infantry battalion of Congolese soldiers has been redeployed to help halt advances by the M23 rebel group in the DRC, according to the United Nations.
JOHN VANDIVER/STARS AND STRIPES